Tagged: Clean Water Act

Back to the Future, or Forward to the Past? EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Release New Clean Water Act New Rule Revising Definition of “Waters of the United States”

Ever since the enactment in 1972 of the modern Clean Water Act (a comprehensive amendment of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act), courts, agencies, and landowners have struggled to define the statute’s geographic scope, especially with respect to wetlands, which do not fit neatly within familiar notions of “water” or “land.” Landowners often confront this issue because the statute prohibits unpermitted discharges of pollutants (including fill material) into “navigable waters,” but defines that term broadly as “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas,” which includes some, but not all, areas that scientists would deem to be wetlands. In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released the latest chapter in this five-decade-long saga, in the form of a new 514-page rule defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). The rule was officially promulgated via publication in the Federal Register on January 18, and will become effective 60 days later. The new WOTUS rule is the product of a rulemaking process spurred by a January 2021 executive order signed by President Biden that directed all agencies to review regulations and take appropriate action to address those that might conflict with policies of science-based decision-making. (86 Fed. Reg. 7037 (Jan. 25, 2021)). It replaces the Trump...

USEPA Provides Draft Guidance on Application of “Functional Equivalent” Analysis for Clean Water Act Permitting Program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued a Draft Guidance Memorandum regarding how to apply the Supreme Court’s most recent Clean Water Act decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund from earlier this year. In that case (which we previously wrote about here and here), the Court held that the Clean Water Act Section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program requires a permit where there is a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from a “point source” into “navigable waters.” As the USEPA draft guidance notes, the Court’s decision outlines “seven non-exclusive factors that regulators and the regulated community may consider in determining whether a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” exists in a particular circumstance. The draft guidance aims to place the functional equivalent standard “into context within existing NPDES permitting framework.” Additionally, the draft guidance “identifies an additional factor” relevant to the analysis. The draft guidance emphasizes that the County of Maui decision did not modify the two threshold conditions that trigger the requirements for a permit. These conditions are that there must be an actual discharge of a pollutant to a water of the United States, and that that discharge must be from a point source. “Instead, Maui clarified that an NPDES permit is required for only...

Jordan Asch to Participate in Upcoming NJSBA Panel Discussion – “Resolving Everyday Environmental Problems” – November 5

Jordan M. Asch, an Associate in the Gibbons Environmental Department, will participate in an upcoming panel discussion presented by the New Jersey State Bar Association, in cooperation with its Environmental Law Section. The panel, “Resolving Everyday Environmental Problems,” will take place virtually on Thursday, November 5 from 9:00 – 10:30 am. The discussion will cover some of the complex, and often expensive, environmental issues that small businesses and homeowners may face, including site remediation issues, funding sources, environmental permitting, and the permitting process. Attorneys who represent small business owners that own or lease real property, or that may develop or improve real property, as well as homeowners that may face environmental remediation or permitting issues are encouraged to attend. For additional information or to register, click here.

U.S. Supreme Court Remands Clean Water Act Case to the Fourth Circuit for Further Consideration in Light of “Functional Equivalent” Test from County of Maui

The effects of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund have begun to ripple out. In County of Maui, the Court held that the Clean Water Act requires a permit where there is a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from a “point source” into “navigable waters.” The Court acknowledged the “difficulty with this approach” in dealing with the “middle instances,” and provided a non-exhaustive list of seven factors that may be considered in determining whether a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” exists in a particular circumstance. “Time and distance will be the most important factors in most cases, but not necessarily in every case,” the Court guided. In Kinder Morgan Energy v. Upstate Forever, a Clean Water Act case seeking certiorari of a decision from the Fourth Circuit, the Supreme Court followed County of Maui by issuing an Order granting certiorari, vacating the Fourth Circuit’s decision, and remanding the case to the Court of Appeals for “further consideration in light of County of Maui.” In Kinder Morgan Energy, two environmental groups argued that Kinder Morgan was illegally discharging pollutants into navigable waters without a permit under the Clean Water Act. Similar to the facts of the Maui case, the discharge by Kinder Morgan was alleged to...

SCOTUS Creates “Functional Equivalent” Test to Determine Whether Point Source Dischargers Are Subject to the Clean Water Act

The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in the most prominent Clean Water Act (CWA) case since its 2006 plurality decision in Rapanos v. United States. In County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Court interpreted the landmark statute to require a permit where there is a “functional equivalent” of a direct discharge from a “point source” into “navigable waters.” The likely impact of this holding for the parties is to subject the County of Maui to the statute’s permitting requirements for its discharges of treated wastewater through wells to groundwater that eventually reach the ocean. Beyond the parties, environmental groups are likely to cheer this decision while the regulated community, and lower courts, will likely be wary of the Court’s multifactor test. The CWA prohibits the “addition” of any pollutant from a “point source” to “navigable waters” without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The County of Maui came before the Court as the operator of a wastewater reclamation facility in Maui, Hawaii. That facility collects sewage, partially treats it, then pumps that water into four underground wells. The effluent then travels about a half mile through groundwater to the Pacific Ocean. For nearly five decades the facility operated in this manner with the knowledge of the EPA, and...

Executive Order Spells Uncertainty for Pending EPA Rules

On January 30, 2017, as promised during his campaign, President Trump signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to identify two regulations to be repealed for every new regulation that is created. The order comes on the heels of a January 20, 2017 memorandum from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus directing agency heads to freeze new or pending regulations including those that had been finalized but not yet published in the Federal Register. The “one in, two out” rule and regulatory freeze spell uncertainty for regulations currently in the pipeline for adoption by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), including the proposed financial assurances rules for the hardrock mining industry we have previously covered here. Other impacted EPA rule proposals include a stormwater general permit designed to reduce polluted runoff from construction sites and a rule which would include vapor intrusion as a method of evaluating contamination levels at potential Superfund sites. At present, it is unclear how the administration’s actions will ultimately impact any pending EPA regulations (or those of other federal agencies). The environmental attorneys at Gibbons P.C. will be closely monitoring any further executive action impacting proposed EPA rules and report on any important developments.

No Need to Wait: Supreme Court Permits Judicial Review of Wetlands Jurisdictional Determinations

As we reported, four years ago, in Sackett v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a recipient of a compliance order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly illegal filling of wetlands could directly challenge the order in court, and did not have to wait until EPA filed a lawsuit to enforce the order before obtaining judicial review of its validity. In a recent opinion the Court extended the rationale of Sackett and again lowered the threshold of judicial reviewability, holding that a landowner can seek judicial review of a mere determination by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) that its property contains wetlands whose filling would require a permit under the Clean Water Act.

EPA and Army Corps Propose to Clear the Mud Stirred Up by Rapanos

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court created great confusion in Rapanos v. United States over what wetlands fell within the coverage of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by setting out two separate tests for jurisdiction, one in the four-justice plurality opinion led by Justice Scalia, and one in a separate concurrence by Justice Kennedy. In an attempt to resolve the confusion, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers jointly released a draft rule. The rule is intended to clarify what streams and wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act.

Another Edition of “No Addition”: Supreme Court Applies Precedent to Confirm Plaintiffs’ Concession That Movement of Water Within River Channel Was Not a “Discharge”

The answer you get depends on the question you ask. That’s the take-home lesson from the Supreme Court’s decision in Los Angeles Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council. All parties agreed on the answer to the specific question on which the Court granted certiorari. The Court, applying its own 2004 precedent, said they were correct — there was no “discharge” that violated the District’s permit because the flows in question simply went from one part of the same river system to another. The Court never reached the alternative ground for liability urged by the plaintiffs because it went beyond that narrow question. The result? A reversal and a win for the District on essentially procedural grounds.

USEPA Grants Technical Assistance to Coopers Ferry Partnership to Study SMART Initiative in Camden, N.J.

On July 19, 2012, Coopers Ferry Partnership was one of 17 community partners selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to receive technical assistance as part of its 2011 strategic agenda to renew support for green infrastructure and promote its effective implementation. The Coopers Ferry Partnership will receive $70,000 to advance projects aimed at reducing water pollution in Camden, New Jersey.