Posted on August 31, 2016
Spencer Johnson’s classic came to mind when I learned of new plans for the Burger power plant on the Ohio River. The Burger plant has had a makeover from an electric generating facility to a massive chemical plant feasting on the abundant natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica regions of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
When I returned from active duty, my employer said, you will practice environmental law. Because I was accustomed to taking orders, I said "yes sir". That led me to cooling towers for the Davis Besse and Perry Nuclear plants on Lake Erie. More dramatically, however, it led me to years of dealing with coal-fired generation in Ohio. Rich with coal and numerous coal-fired plants on Lake Erie and the Ohio River (and other rivers as well), I thought Ohio would supply cheap, coal-fired energy for many people for years. Unfortunately, I did not predict the obsolescence of coal-fired electric generation or the recent emergence of natural gas as the leading source of fuel for power. I saw clients invest billions of dollars in pollution control equipment only to see the emission reduction goal posts moved beyond reach as regulators adopted progressively more stringent measures to address new national ambient air quality standards, lake breeze fumigation, long range transport, acid rain, regional haze, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gas emissions.
When I started my practice, virtually all of the Ohio base load units burned coal. And thousands of Ohio miners worked and their families prospered. Barges carried coal down the Ohio River or unit trains took coal to the Lake Erie plants. I saw Little Egypt take big bites of coal and overburden in southeastern Ohio. I remember when an interstate (77) was closed to let the mammoth excavator proceed to the next seam of coal on the other side.
I have stood on the air pollution control deck of a massive Ohio River power plant that spans a highway. I have wiped the floor with white gloves of a coal fired plant on Lake Erie. I have worked with the dedicated professionals who took pride in maintaining those plants. So it saddens me to read that talented engineers are being laid off from engineering companies in Akron, and major utilities are selling megawatts on the Ohio River. AEP and First Energy have announced plans to auction generating units.
Some of us remember that our success was measured in jobs retained while reaching a reasonable accommodation with the environment. I hope my successors have that opportunity .
So with sadness and regret – but also an appreciation that my career started in 1973, at the beginning of the burgeoning practice of environmental law, when "Coal Was King" and the Burger plant was alive and well – I hope you watch this short video of the demolition of the Burger coal-fired power plant to make way for a natural gas cracker. Here is the demise of the Burger "tall stack." May Burger rest in peace.
Posted on August 30, 2016
Many, many years ago, when I was a staff lawyer at EPA headquarters, my duties included advising the program that implemented and enforced the Noise Control Act of 1972. My last involvement, though, was to help dismantle the program. In one of the more curious footnotes to the deregulatory wave that swept EPA in the early years of the Reagan administration, EPA axed the program – sort of. Leaving behind a regulatory ghost town, EPA revised its noise regulations to leave standing the bare structure of federally preemptive rules, while clearing the building of its regulatory and enforcement staff. In effect, EPA took itself out of the picture, morphing the noise regulations into a self-certification program for manufacturers.
And there, in 40 CFR Parts 201 through 211, the rules have resided (quietly) for the last 34 years – noise standards for rail equipment, trucks, and portable air compressors, as well as labeling requirements for hearing protectors. (But not garbage trucks. EPA promulgated final noise standards for those, but revoked the regulations on the eve of the DC Circuit argument in which EPA was to defend the rule. Think about that next time you hear the hydraulics whining outside your bedroom window at 5:00 a.m.)
Ah, but did the noise program really end? As one of my EPA supervisors quipped at the time, the noise program is like a spider you’ve stepped on: you think it’s dead, but then its leg starts twitching. Today’s twitch comes from the New York congressional delegation, specifically Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), whose district lies in the flight path of LaGuardia Airport, and New York’s democratic senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Together, they have introduced “The Quiet Communities Act of 2016.” The bills (H.R.3384 and S.3197) would bring back EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control. The legislation focuses on aircraft noise (regulation of which has, since the early 1980s, rested solely in the hands of the FAA), and it’s fairly modest in scope, authorizing a program of studies and grants, not a return to command-and-control regulatory efforts. However, both bills include a charge to EPA to “assess the effectiveness of the Noise Control Act of 1972” – kind of like checking on the Betamax hiding in your garage closet.
Let’s not get carried away by the imminent descent of the “cone of silence” over our nation, though: www.govtrack.us gives the legislation a 2 percent chance of being enacted. But hey, you never know. All eyes on the spider!
Posted on August 29, 2016
Perhaps not many, at least not in Oregon, would mourn the failure of a liquefied natural gas terminal and associated gas pipeline project. As counsel for over a decade to the Oregon LNG project at the mouth of the Columbia River, I mourn less for the failure of the project than the process. I am confident that if the standards-based approval process had been allowed to play out, we would have satisfied all federal and state permitting criteria. But, alas, we never got that opportunity.
The Natural Gas Act, as amended in 2005, confers upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission exclusive authority over the siting of LNG export terminals and interstate pipelines. The NGA, however, preserves authority delegated to the states by the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act. The problem is that Oregon law requires state agencies to first receive affirmation from local governments of compatibility with land use regulations before issuing a state permit.
Other states have similar laws and have attempted to use them to halt or impede LNG projects, only to have Courts of Appeals for the D.C., First and Fourth Circuits reject the incorporation of local land use planning into state processes as preempted by the NGA. But the conflict with state law sets up an unnecessary confrontation, adding expense and delay that can prove fatal to a project under development, as it was here.
The Oregon LNG project, aware of the federal preemption argument, nonetheless filed land use applications at the City of Warrenton for the terminal, and at Clatsop County for the pipeline. The project filed the applications to demonstrate a desire to comply with all applicable regulations, confident in its ability to do so. In fact, an independent hearings officer, following an evidentiary hearing, concluded the project met all County criteria. Following approval by the County Commission, and, while an appeal by opponents was pending, an election occurred. An anti-LNG slate was elected to the Board of Commissioners, and the newly constituted County Commission promptly reversed course. And there’s the rub: the criteria had not changed, only the elected officials passing judgment. Thus, local land use compatibility statements were not to be had, rendering the state permitting process impossible to complete.
This is not a screed against the multitude of state or federal agencies reviewing our various, complex permit applications. To be sure, the agencies felt the political pressure brought by opponents, which caused them to be cautious and deliberate (perhaps too deliberate) and thus slow moving. Nor is this to suggest that local governments and sentiment should have no role in siting energy projects that affect their communities. Of course they should.
The real problem, however, is the total deference given under Oregon law to local land use regulations, even when the local land use decision is so blatantly political, thus creating a legal basis for NIMBY-ism. In our case, this deference essentially gave veto authority to the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners, which cannot have been the intent of Congress or the state legislature. Otherwise, how would any infrastructure project of national importance ever be constructed—highways, power plants, transmission lines, fiber optic cables, telephone lines, railroads, bridges, or dams—if locals could block it through a land use resolution?
Posted on August 25, 2016
GONE. The Bramble Cay melomys is no more. The small rodent, the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, is the first documented extinction of a mammal species due to contemporary climate change. So says Luke Leung, a scientist from the University of Queensland. “The key factor responsible for the death of the Bramble Cay melomys is almost certainly high tides and surging seawater, which has traveled across the island” destroying the animal's habitat and food source, said Dr. Leung.
Australia’s most isolated mammal had not been seen since 2007. The report confirming the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys, however, was not released until June 2016, in order to give scientists time to verify the loss of the species. Upon release of the report, Dr. Leung said it was the first such extinction due to contemporary climate change. He said his team “collected data, looked at other research and left no stone unturned” before making that assertion. Dr. Anthony Barnosky, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a leading expert on climate change's effect on the natural world, said the claim seems “right on target to me”.
Both Drs. Leung and Barnosky believe that the climate change responsible for the demise of the melomys is caused by humans. Whether caused by humans, aided and abetted by humans or merely not abated by humans, the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys is, sadly, unlikely to be the last species loss to be caused by the effects of contemporary climate change. How many more?
Posted on August 23, 2016
One of the interesting questions that emerged in the strategic planning process for the Environmental Law Institute is whether ELI could offer more support in the development and/or administration of supplemental environmental projects, or “SEPs”.
Having played a role in the birthing of the original SEP framework in the early 1990s while at EPA, and through my own experience as a practitioner, I am convinced that penalty mitigation through the performance of SEPs can come as close to a win-win as is possible in the enforcement context. Rather than having penalties, payable as they are only to the U.S. Treasury, lose their site-specific identify and value, SEPs allow diversion of some of those resources to projects geared toward environmental or process improvements that not only achieve compliance, but also provide discrete and measurable environmental benefits.
Development and implementation of a suitable SEP can at times be challenging. For these reasons, companies sometimes opt in favor of paying a large penalty rather than a reduced penalty with a SEP. Meanwhile, the government appears to be keener than ever about utilizing this tool. EPA’s draft Environmental Justice Plan 2020 Action Agenda, for example, observes that “when these types of projects are feasible, they can play an important role in cases that raise environmental justice concerns. Thus, EPA is setting the goal of increasing the number of SEPs and mitigation projects affecting overburdened communities.”
So here’s the thought. Perhaps to lighten the SEP load for defendants and government alike, an entity like ELI could help in the conceptualization and, in appropriate cases, the administration of SEPs. As it happens, ELI already has experience in this area. For example, in the context of settlement negotiations between a state environmental regulatory agency and a defendant (I’ll not disclose identities here), ELI was brought in to help shape and then implement a SEP to develop a training module on the regulations at issue in the case. Under the SEP, in addition to developing the training materials, ELI is to deliver at least two in-person classes to targeted audiences comprised of manufacturers and/or consumers, and to make these informational briefings more broadly available online (via, e.g., webinars, and audio-video recordings suitable for posting, including on the ELI website).
And this SEP is not a one-off. As a research and education institute, a convener experienced in community outreach and engagement, and a non-partisan presence having affinities with both regulators and the business community, ELI is well-suited to work with companies and their representatives to craft and execute approvable SEPs. These range from education of stakeholders about regulatory requirements and measures that go beyond compliance; to research, analysis, and publication of information on best practices for compliance and beyond; to monitoring and evaluating the success of on-the-ground SEPs undertaken by other organizations. Also, it probably goes without saying, but because we’re a non-profit, we can and must do our work on a cost-basis. In other words, we’re cheap.
Just a thought to tuck away for the next time a SEP enters your or your client’s equation.
Posted on August 18, 2016
Today, the U.S. EPA and Department of Justice announced that Harley Davidson has accepted defeat on defeat devices. The icon of rebellion lost its black luster years ago when bankers, professors, and, of all things, lawyers, became the most noticeable owners and riders of their iron horses. The Gucci sunglasses betrayed the weekend gangsters to mere citizens who at first trembled at the rumble of Harley motors.
But now, the historic purveyor of the rawest available form of horsepower has agreed to stop selling popular “super tuners” for “Super Glides”, “Fat Boys”, “Road Kings”, “Electra Glides” and other iconic rides. The engine tuner kits are guaranteed to raise the rumble another notch or two. The problem? Emissions. What?! Yes, emissions.
Well, actually cheating about emissions. EPA says Harley’s “super tuned” engine emissions are higher than the emissions certified for stock engines. I’m shocked. The aftermarket nature of these horsepower enhancers does not matter. Harley is not supposed to help rabble rousing bikers exceed their emissions allowances, says EPA.
Wow. Is blaming Harley for breaking the rules within the rules? Has the last hope of rebellion been reduced from “rolling thunder” to a Vespa’s whine? I would take my stack of Harley t-shirts out in the backyard tonight for a ceremonial bonfire, but Birmingham has banned open burning until November.
Posted on August 5, 2016
In Mingo Logan Coal Company v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit recently upheld EPA’s use of its “veto” authority over an Army Corps of Engineers permit to fill jurisdictional waters for the Spruce Mine in West Virginia. Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act provides EPA authority to “deny or restrict the use of any defined area for specification (including the withdrawal of specification).” This authority was described by the court in Mingo Logan as “a mighty power and its exercise will perhaps inevitably leave a permittee feeling as if the rug has been pulled out from under it.”
The salient facts in Mingo Logan involved a Section 404 permit for a “mountaintop removal” coal mine. After a 7-year EIS, the Corps issued the permit in 2006. EPA expressed reservations with the permit, but communicated to the Corps that it “had no intention of taking [its] Spruce Mine concerns any further from a Section 404 standpoint.” But times change – and so do administrations – and in 2009 EPA asked the Corps to suspend, revoke, or modify the permit. After the Corps refused to do so, EPA began the 404(c) process, which led to a final decision in January 2011 to withdraw the specification for two (of three) disposal sites covered under the permit.
On appeal, Mingo Logan argued that EPA did not consider the company’s sunk reliance costs (a point EPA conceded). Even though 404(c) does not explicitly denote costs as a factor in EPA’s decision-making, the court stated that an agency “should generally weigh the costs of its action against its benefits.” Unfortunately for Mingo Logan, the court found that the company had not appropriately raised the issue of reliance costs before EPA or the district court.
The Mingo Logan decision is a bitter pill for developers, interjecting an additional element of uncertainty into a Section 404 regulatory process that is already challenging and subject to shifting political winds. As noted at this site, the agencies and courts have struggled with the jurisdictional reach of Section 404 and when a party can challenge the government’s actions. Key take-aways from Mingo Logan include:
First, 404(c) battles are not for the faint of heart. EPA has successfully used the authority twelve times since the passage of the CWA. Every attempt to stop EPA through litigation has ultimately failed.
Second, Mingo Logan clarifies that a Section 404 permit can be withdrawn years after its issuance. The decision will serve to undermine confidence in the integrity of the permitting process in the United States.
Last, Mingo Logan highlights the inherent problems of shared EPA/Corps responsibility. Defenders of 404(c) will note that this “mighty authority” is rarely used. Although true, it misses the point that the effects of 404(c) are, in fact, regularly felt by the regulated community. The ability to say “no” gives EPA significant leverage – behind the scenes -- in the permitting process.
Query whether we would have a better, and more effective, Section 404 permitting process if all of the authority and responsibility for permitting were vested in a single agency – either the Corps or EPA.
Posted on August 4, 2016
This post started as a piece about a recent Fifth Circuit decision: Texas v. EPA. In that case, the state of Texas (and others) challenge EPA’s disapproval of Texas’s (and Oklahoma’s) plans for controlling regional haze and EPA’s decision to impose its own haze-control program instead. To make my drafting process more entertaining (and the task of posting more challenging for our official poster, Colin Gipson-Tansil), I set a goal for myself: to include within my post at least 25 valid links to others’ posts during the past year. Fortunately for me, there is almost nothing in Texas v. EPA that doesn’t link to one or more recent posts.
Jurisdiction and Venue. Many of the past year’s posts point out problems caused by the failure of the Clean Water Act to state unambiguously which federal court has jurisdiction to hear a specific challenge to an EPA action under that statute. Stoll’s 9/2/2015 post, Glick’s 10/9/2015 post, Horder’s 11/3/2015 post, Perdue’s 2/5/2016 post, and Uram’s 4/5/2016 post. Texas v. EPA demonstrates that choice-of-court problems also exist under the Clean Air Act’s judicial review provision, §307(b)(1).
Clean Air Act §307(b)(1) – said the Fifth Circuit – is a two-fold provision: first, it confers jurisdiction on the courts of appeals, and then it delineates whether the appropriate venue for challenges will be the regional circuits (if the challenged action is locally or regionally applicable) or the D.C. Circuit (if the action is nationally applicable). Believing EPA’s disapproval of its regional haze program to be locally or regionally applicable, Texas filed its challenge in the Fifth Circuit. EPA moved to dismiss or transfer the case to the D.C. Circuit based on a separate, not-as-well-known prong of §307(b)(1), which directs that a petition for review of what seems like a non-national action may be filed only in the D.C. Circuit if the action is “based on a determination of nationwide scope or effect and if in taking such action [EPA] finds and publishes that such action is based on such a determination.” After an exhaustive de novo evaluation of that portion of §307(b)(1), the Fifth Circuit determined that because the challenged EPA actions are locally or regionally applicable and because they are not based on any determinations that have nationwide scope or effect, the Fifth Circuit is the appropriate court to hear the case.
But wait. There are other link-worthy aspects of Texas v. EPA, including the following.
Explanations of Decisions to Stay Challenged Actions. During the past year, posts have discussed whether and how much a court needs to explain the basis on which it stays a challenged rule pending completion of litigation concerning that rule’s validity. Jaffe’s 2/10/2016 post, Gerrard’s 2/10/2016 post. If it is a lengthy explanation you seek for when and why a court should stay an EPA action pending completion of litigation, the Fifth Circuit provides that in Texas v. EPA.
Deference. Other recent posts have addressed when deference to an agency interpretation is – or is not – appropriate. Kovar (12/10/2015); Percival (1/27/2016); Field (2/11/2016); Haynes (2/19/2016); May (6/9/2016); Civins (7/5/2016); Jaffe (8/2/2016). In Texas, the Fifth Circuit put clear limits on deference, holding that the level of deference owed to an agency’s conclusions is “substantially diminished when the subject matter in question lies beyond the agency’s expertise.” Thus, while the Fifth Circuit was prepared to defer substantially to EPA’s views on environmental science, it declined to defer to EPA’s views on whether its actions would impair the reliability of the electricity grid. Since “EPA has no expertise on grid reliability” (that is FERC’s domain), the “deference owed to EPA’s assertions about grid reliability [is] diminished and the agency must support its arguments more thoroughly than in those areas in which it has considerable expertise and knowledge.”
That limitation on deference could have an impact on the most talked-about case by ACOEL members this past year: West Virginia v. EPA, in which more than two dozen states and many other parties challenge EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Jaffe’s 9/10/2015 post, Gerrard’s 2/10/2016 post, Jaffe’s 10/23/2015 post, Jaffe’s 12/9/2015 post, Percival’s 12/16/2015 post, Stoll’s 12/21/2015 post, Perdue’s 2/5/2016 post, Jaffe’s 2/10/2016 post, Field’s 2/11/2016 post, Session’s 2/17/2016 post, and Freeman’s 3/2/2016 post. The Fifth Circuit’s limit on deference is the basis of a recent Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 28(j) letter sent to the D.C. Circuit by the petitioning states in West Virginia. According to those states, the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Texas v. EPA supports, among other things, the petitioning states’ argument that EPA has failed to show that the Clean Power Plan will not detrimentally affect grid reliability.
Perhaps the link in which I take the most pride, though, is this last link – to Seth Jaffe’s October 2, 2015 Brief Rant on Cost-Effectiveness Analysis. In that post, Seth argues that if the purpose of a rule is to improve visibility, EPA should use a measurement of visibility – a deciview (dv) – to assess visibility improvement. Well, in Texas v. EPA, the Fifth Circuit seemed to be heading in the direction of agreeing that in considering the cost of a regional haze program, EPA should use the $/dv metric. Alas, at the last minute, the court pulled back on a complete endorsement of the $/dv metric: because the petitioners had a “strong likelihood of establishing other flaws” in EPA’s actions, the court said it did not need to decide whether EPA “fell short of its obligation to consider the costs of its regulations” by failing to use $/dv metrics. So, Seth may have to wait a while longer before seeing a court mandate for EPA’s use of $/dv metrics to evaluate visibility improvements. I, however, achieved my goal of including a record number of links in this post.
Posted on August 3, 2016
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce its final Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) update by the end of summer 2016. But does the update account for the fact that several new regulatory programs that could significantly improve downwind air quality?
In his posts of August 3, 2015and April 30, 2014, ACOEL Fellow Paul Seals likened the voyage of the interstate transport of air pollutants to “Homer’s Odyssey”. He promised us all that the D.C. Circuit decision of June 24, 2015, in the case of EME Homer City Generation, L.P., v. EPA, concerning the CSAPR would not end the voyage of interstate transport – and indeed it has not.
Critical to the development of a rule to address the interstate transport of air pollutants is that the rule not call for emission reductions that are more than necessary to achieve attainment in every downwind state. EPA’s 2017 deadline for attaining the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) invites the question of what the ozone air quality is likely to be in 2017. EPA’s proposed CSAPR Updateidentified only 4 monitors in the East that it predicted to be in non-attainment with the 2008 ozone NAAQS in 2017.
EPA’s prediction of 2017 air quality, however, did not take into account several new regulatory programs that are either on-the-books or on-the-way. These programs are certain to continue to improve ozone air quality in the East. Among the more significant of these programs are:
- Pennsylvania Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) II;
- Ozone Transport Commission Model Rules;
- Connecticut RACT;
- New York High Energy Demand Day (HEDD) controls; and
- Connecticut High Energy Demand Day (HEDD) controls
To illustrate the significance of this point, Alpine Geophysics modeled the impact of only a portion of the Pennsylvania RACT II program on ozone concentrations at the nonattainment monitors downwind of Pennsylvania identified by in the CSAPR proposal. The following results from the Alpine Geophysics report illustrate that even one of these new programs is likely to significantly improve ozone air quality at the critical monitors in the East:
EPA Nonattainment Monitors
Ozone Improvement needed (ppb)
Ozone Improvement Achieved By PA RACT Alone
|Connecticut Fairfield (90013007)
|Connecticut Fairfield (90019003)
|Connecticut New Havens (90019003)
Such improvement - related to only one of the unaddressed programs - raises the question about whether all of the EPA identified nonattainment monitors will, in fact, be in attainment with the 2008 ozone NAAQS when these on-the-books and on-the-way programs are implemented in 2017, even without the CSAPR update.
The answer to this question, and to the merit of any new transport rule, lies with additional air quality modeling of these programs. When EPA announces its final rule on the CSAPR update by the end of summer, we will see whether the agency has taken account of these additional programs and see the future direction of this on-going odyssey.
Posted on August 3, 2016
Back in the early days of the College, then-incoming President Brad Martin had asked interested Members to work with Lexis Nexis in developing some treatises on a range of topics. Indeed, years later you can go to this link to see how you too can join the very few who purchase some of these treatises, see a photo of Brad, and the list of ACOEL authors. New Council of Environmental Quality guidance on treatment of climate change in federal environmental impact analysis suggests these treatises may have some impact.
I agreed to and with the aid of one of Brad’s former associates, in 2010 authored a treatise entitled “Treatment of Greenhouse Gases Under the National Environmental Policy Act” . We addressed the then-recently released (February 2010) White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Draft Guidance on consideration of climate change and greenhouse gases in NEPA environmental reviews. In the conclusion I said:
With the prospects for comprehensive, economy-wide regulations on greenhouse gas emissions uncertain, climate change will continue to be addressed under existing environmental laws, including NEPA and its state-level counterparts. It has become increasingly clear that project proponents and lead agencies will be hard-pressed to avoid evaluating greenhouse gas emissions and other climate-related impacts attributable to public and private development projects. But disparate treatment across federal and state jurisdictions has left agencies and developers struggling with when and how to evaluate such impacts in their environmental review documents. Despite a growing body of regulations, case law, and guidance, substantial uncertainty remains regarding the scope, type, and depth of analyses required of climate change effects under NEPA and state analogues.
Little did I know or even suspect that the “disparate treatment” would continue unabated for another 5-plus years. The Draft Guidance was intended to be finalized in 2011, but the final version would not be released until the waning days of the Obama Administration On August 2, 2016, the CEQ has now issued its 34-page Final Guidance, which expressly requires all Federal agencies to include climate change in their analysis of environmental impacts.
In sum, the Final Guidance (at 4-6):
“[r]ecommends that agencies quantify a proposed agency action’s projected direct and indirect GHG emissions, taking into account available data and GHG quantification tools that are suitable for the proposed agency action; Recommends that agencies use projected GHG emissions (to include, where applicable, carbon sequestration implications associated with the proposed agency action) as a proxy for assessing potential climate change effects when preparing a NEPA analysis for a proposed agency action; Recommends that where agencies do not quantify a proposed agency action’s projected GHG emissions because tools, methodologies, or data inputs are not reasonably available to support calculations for a quantitative analysis, agencies include a qualitative analysis in the NEPA document and explain the basis for determining that quantification is not reasonably available; Discusses methods to appropriately analyze reasonably foreseeable direct, indirect, and cumulative GHG emissions and climate effects; Guides the consideration of reasonable alternatives and recommends agencies consider the short- and long-term effects and benefits in the alternatives and mitigation analysis; Advises agencies to use available information when assessing the potential future state of the affected environment in a NEPA analysis, instead of undertaking new research that is, and provides examples of existing sources of scientific information; Counsels agencies to use the information developed during the NEPA review to consider alternatives that would make the actions and affected communities more resilient to the effects of a changing climate; …and Counsels agencies that the “rule of reason” inherent in NEPA and the CEQ Regulations allows agencies to determine, based on their expertise and experience, how to consider an environmental effect and prepare an analysis based on the available information.”
How many of our LexisNexis recommendations were reflected in the Final Guidance I cannot yet say. But one moral of this tale is that College members may be able to direct a spotlight on needed changes in environmental regulating, even when those wheels of justice grind exceeding slow.
Posted on August 2, 2016
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit largely upheld EPA’s Boiler MACT rule. The industry challenges were a complete washout. The environmental petitioners won one significant victory and a number of smaller ones.
The environmental petitioners’ one significant victory is important. EPA included within relevant subcategories any source that burns a fuel containing at least 10% of the “subcategory-defining fuel.” However, for defining MACT, EPA included only those sources that burn fuel containing at 90% of the subcategory-defining fuel for existing sources, and 100% for new sources. The Court rejected this approach.
"The CAA, however, demands that source subcategories take the bitter with the sweet. Section 7412 mandates, without ambiguity, that the EPA set the MACT floor at the level achieved by the best performing source, or the average of the best performing sources, in a subcategory. It thus follows that if the EPA includes a source in a subcategory, it must take into account that source’s emissions levels in setting the MACT floor."
Which brings me to my big take-away from this decision. Chevron lives. By my count, The Court cited Chevron 30 times. Chevron pervades the decision. Even in the one big issue that EPA lost, the Court’s decision was based not on a rejection of EPA’s interpretation of an ambiguous provision under step 2 of Chevron, but on a plain meaning interpretation of § 112. EPA defined what a source is, but it then refused to calculate MACT based upon the performance of all of the sources in a given subcategory. The statute simply did not allow EPA that leeway.
Other than EPA’s attempt to avoid taking “the bitter with the sweet”, however, the Court’s deference – by three Republican appointees – to EPA’s technical decisions was notable. Not every case is the Clean Power Plan. Where EPA is not really pushing the boundaries, I don’t see the Supreme Court weakening Chevron any time soon.