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We are not expecting further big climate reduction commitments from countries this year at COP27. The leaders of China and Russia (the world’s first- and fifth-largest climate polluters) are not attending the event, nor are officials from many of the largest economies, including India and Australia. U.S. President Joseph Biden will make only a short

US EPA periodically issues compliance advisories and enforcement alerts that highlight the agency’s enforcement efforts related to specific regulations and regulatory provisions. One recent EPA enforcement alert targets air emissions from stationary engines subject to the RICE NESHAP under 40 CFR Part 63, Subpart ZZZZ and new source performance standards in 40 CFR Part 60

Introduction

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (the Act) into law on August 16, 2022.  The Act represents an expansive investment in the energy industry, with many provisions targeting clean energy and climate change issues through funding and tax credits.  However, several notable provisions from an environmental permitting and compliance standpoint are buried amongst the financial and tax provisions.  These environmental provisions relate to permitting and compliance that the regulated industry, especially energy companies, should watch closely.

Funding for Permitting and Programmatic Development

The Act provided significant funding to regulatory authorities for a number of permitting-related activities. 

For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received $20 million to assist with permitting and project review.  The funds are meant to result in more efficient, accurate, and timely reviews for planning, permitting and approval processes through hiring and training personnel and obtaining new technical and scientific services and equipment. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) received $40 million for its permitting and project review efforts.  The funds will be utilized to develop efficient, accurate, and timely reviews for permitting and approval processes through hiring and training of personnel, development of U.S. EPA programmatic documents, procurement of technical or scientific services for reviews, development of environmental data and new information systems, purchase of new equipment, developing new guidance documents, and more.

The Act provided over $62.5 million to the Council on Environmental Quality to develop programmatic documents, tools, guidance, and improvement engagement.  These funds will also support collection of data regarding environmental justice issues, climate change data, development of mapping/screening tools, and tracking and evaluation of cumulative impacts. 

Several other federal agencies received millions in funding for review and planning of electricity generation infrastructure, like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior.  Funding will be used to facilitate timely and efficient reviews, as well as generate environmental programmatic documents, environmental data, and increase stakeholder and community involvement. 

In sum, regulators involved in environmental and energy permitting received a substantial boost in funding targeting the permitting process, including supporting the development and build out of programmatic documents and capabilities.  The funding could improve the timing of the permitting processes for these agencies, but it could also lead to additional administrative burdens in the form of new application and compliance materials and increased regulatory scrutiny where a regulator has more time and money to invest in the regulatory process.

Continue Reading Environmental aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022

In a highly anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court (Court) rejected U.S. EPA’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan in West Virginia v. EPA on June 30, 2022.  Relying upon the “major questions doctrine,” the Court found that Congress had not intended to authorize EPA to regulate emissions using “generation shifting” (i.e., requirements that power production be

On Wednesday April 6, 2022, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court justices stayed a California district court’s October 21, 2021 decision to vacate the Section 401 Water Quality Certification Rule (401 WQC Rule).  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had requested that the district court remand the rule, saying it was planning

In response to President Biden’s Executive Order entitled, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a proposed rule taking aim at greenhouse gases (GHG) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions from new and existing oil and natural gas production, processing, transmission, and storage facilities.  The proposal contains three basic components.  In a break with precedent, EPA did not provide proposed regulatory language.

First, the proposed rule would revise the new source performance standards (NSPS) for GHGs and VOCs for new, modified, and reconstructed sources, including the production, processing, transmission, and storage segments.  Specifically, EPA proposes to a new subpart OOOOb that would update and expand the current requirements under CAA Section 111(b) for methane and VOC emissions from sources constructed, modified, or reconstructed after November 15, 2021.  NSPS OOOOb would include standards for emission sources not regulated previously under the 2016 NSPS OOOOa.  Among other changes, EPA proposes to apply to VOC emissions thresholds to storage vessel tank batteries as opposed to individual storage tanks.  EPA has also suggested a change to the definition of legal and practical enforceability which could impact the utilization of state-level permitting previously used to reduce the potential to emit to below the 6 ton per year VOC-threshold.

Second, the proposed rule would create a new subpart OOOOc that would contain the first nationwide emissions guidelines (EG).  The EG would be a state model rule that states could use to develop, submit, and implement state plans that establish performance standards to limit GHGs from existing sources.

Continue Reading EPA issues proposal to reduce GHGs and VOCs from new and existing oil and natural gas sources

On November 4, 2021, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) announced that it is pausing all requests for coverage under 12 nationwide permits (NWPs) issued earlier this year, including widely used permits for utility and oil and gas projects, among others.   The announcement followed a California district court’s decision vacating the Section 401 Water Quality Certification Rule (2020 401 WQC Rule) adopted by the Trump Administration in 2020.  Important questions remain about how ACOE intends to proceed while coverage is paused.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizes the ACOE to regulate the discharge of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the U.S.  The CWA also requires that any person applying for a Section 404 permit also obtain a Section 401 Water Quality Certification (401 WQC) from the state, confirming that the discharge of fill materials will be in compliance with applicable water quality standards.  States must also issue 401 WQCs for all activities occurring in their state per a NWP.

On January 5, 2021 ACOE released the final version of a rule revamping certain NWPs issued pursuant to Section 404.  NWP 12 (as it existed prior to January 2021) was a general permit covering a range of activities such as utility line installation, development projects, road crossings, etc.  The January rule reissued and modified 12 NWPs and issued four new NWPs, following an April 2020 decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana vacating a prior version of NWP 12These permits include:

Continue Reading The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pauses certain Section 404 nationwide permits