As we previously reported, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has embarked on a robust process for soliciting public input on the regulations it will propose to implement in the state’s landmark environmental justice law, which was enacted last year (and which will not become effective until NJDEP promulgates its regulations). The first meeting was held remotely on October 22, 2020. The process goes well beyond the normal notice-and-comment rulemaking procedure and offers members of the public and the regulated community an unusually broad set of options for submitting their views to the NJDEP. Under the new statute, a company seeking to obtain or renew certain NJDEP permits for new or expanded facilities that fall within the statute’s scope and are located in overburdened communities must prepare an “environmental justice impact statement” and provide for expanded public hearings on its project. In addition to applying the requirements of other applicable statutes and regulations, NJDEP must then determine if the proposed new or expanded facility will cause a disproportionate impact on the affected community. If NJDEP makes such a finding, it must deny the application if it seeks a new permit (unless the facility addresses a “compelling public interest” in the community) or impose extra conditions if the application seeks a permit renewal or...
USEPA Provides Draft Guidance on Application of “Functional Equivalent” Analysis for Clean Water Act Permitting Program
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued a Draft Guidance Memorandum regarding how to apply the Supreme Court’s most recent Clean Water Act decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund from earlier this year.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 As the USEPA draft guidance notes, the Court’s decision outlines “seven non-exclusive factors that regulators and the regulated community may consider in determining whether a “functional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 The draft guidance aims to place the functional equivalent standard “into context within existing NPDES permitting framework.” Additionally, the draft guidance “identifies an additional factor” relevant to the analysis.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...
We Have to Talk: New Jersey Appellate Division Invalidates Discharge Permit for Failure of Agency to Consult with Highlands Council
In the latest twist in a saga that began in 2002, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) failure to consult with the Highlands Council invalidated a wastewater discharge permit that DEP had issued to the prospective developer of a site located in the “planning area” covered by the state’s Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (Highlands Act). As a result, the story is guaranteed to continue for several more months and perhaps, in light of likely appeals, several more years. Bellemead Development Corporation first received a New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit for the discharge of treated wastewater from a planned development in Tewksbury in 1998. In 2002, with the permit set to expire the next year, Bellemead applied for a renewal of its original permit. DEP’s denial of the application in 2006 set in motion a chain of administrative hearings, apparent settlements, and new applications that culminated in DEP’s issuance of a new permit in 2014. The Township of Readington and several citizen groups appealed. The appellants pointed to a number of procedural missteps by DEP, but the court focused on the department’s failure to consult the Highlands Council prior to issuing the permit. The Council was created by the 2004 Highlands Act, which regulates...
Legislature Approves Retroactive One-Year Extension of New Jersey’s Permit Extension Act in Superstorm Sandy-Impacted Counties
New Jersey’s Permit Extension Act (“PEA”) sunsetted at the end of 2015 when the Legislature did not enact a further extension. It has now been resurrected and extended retroactively, for one additional year, in nine counties most impacted by Superstorm Sandy. New Jersey’s Permit Extension Act (“PEA”) was initially enacted in 2008 in response to “the crisis in the real estate finance sector of the economy.” The purpose of the PEA was to toll, through the end of 2012, expiration of various approvals necessary for development. The PEA was later amended in 2012, due to the then “current national recession,” to extend the tolling of the expiration of those approvals until December 31, 2014, and a subsequent amendment extended it until December 31, 2015.
On May 4, 2016, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) proposed amendments to regulations governing its comprehensive eagle conservation and management program. The proposal follows a successful challenge by environmental groups to FWS’ prior attempt to change its eagle rules, which was tossed out by a federal judge in 2013. The proposed modifications include changes to the manner by which FWS issues permits allowing otherwise prohibited activities which may unintentionally injure or disturb golden and bald eagles.
The state legislature took no action to further extend New Jersey’s Permit Extension Act (“PEA”) during the recently concluded legislative session, which means that permits and approvals extended by the PEA’s tolling period either have expired or will expire soon. Pursuant to the terms of the act, the expiration date for most approvals covered by the PEA are tolled through June 30, 2016, with certain approvals expiring before that date, making right now the time to evaluate projects approaching construction to determine which existing approvals were extended by the PEA, the exact expiration date of such approvals, and whether further extensions are available under other laws. After such an evaluation, developers and project managers can then determine whether approval rights can be fully vested prior to their expiration date and, if not, whether an extension, amendment, or renewal of the approval is required.
On June 1, 2015, after significant outreach to the relevant stakeholders, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) released for public comment sweeping proposed changes to the rules governing Coastal Zone Management (CZM), N.J.A.C. 7:7E-1.1 et seq., Stormwater Management (SWM), N.J.A.C. 7:8-1.1 et seq., and the Flood Hazard Area Control Act (FHACA), N.J.A.C. 7:13-1.1 et seq. However, the New Jersey Legislature is poised to use its constitutional authority to find that the proposed regulations are inconsistent with the legislative intent of the enabling statutes.