Argument Analysis: Context Trumps Text as Justices Debate Reach of Clean Water Act

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 11, 2019

This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). Click here to read Professor Heinzerling's argument preview for this case.

The Clean Water Act requires a permit for the addition to the navigable waters of any pollutant that comes “from any point source.” Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court examined this clause during oral argument in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The question in this case is whether a permit is required for pollutants that originate from a point source but travel through groundwater before reaching a navigable water.

The textual crux of the case is the word “from”: Does “from” mean that a pollutant must be directly delivered to a navigable water by a point source or that a pollutant must merely originate at a point source?

If “from” means the former, the County of Maui wins, because the millions of gallons of treated sewage it discharges into its underground wells run through groundwater before reaching the Pacific Ocean. If it means the latter, the environmental groups win, because the treated sewage originates from the county’s wells, and all agree that these wells are point sources under the statute.

At oral argument yesterday, the justices appeared to find little purchase in the bare word “from.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh was most explicit on this point. He suggested that both ...

Argument Preview: Justices to Consider Reach of Clean Water Act's Permitting Requirement

by Lisa Heinzerling | November 04, 2019
This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US). The central regulatory construct of the Clean Water Act is the requirement of a permit for the addition to the nation's waters of any pollutant that comes "from any point source." Congress' high hopes for the cleansing power of the act's permitting system are reflected in the name Congress chose for it – the "national pollutant discharge elimination system" – ...

The GAO's New Environmental Justice Report

by Dave Owen | October 24, 2019
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Last Thursday, the Government Accountability Office released a new study on federal agencies and environmental justice. The narrow purpose of the report is to assess the extent to which federal agencies are implementing Executive Order 12898, which was issued by President Clinton in 1994 and theoretically remains in force, along with subsequent agency commitments, some made in response to prior GAO studies. For environmental justice advocates, much of the report will paint a ...

2020 in the Courts: A Preview

by Daniel Farber | October 22, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. There are going to be some significant environmental cases over the next year. In addition, some important new cases will be filed now or in the near future, which may produce some interesting rulings. It will probably take more than a year, however, for some of the big new cases down the turnpike to result in their first level of judicial opinions, let alone reach completion. The Supreme Court The Court agreed last spring to ...

If You Care about the Chesapeake Bay, Here's What You Need to Know about Maryland's Clean Water Act Permit for Agricultural Pollution

by Evan Isaacson | October 21, 2019
The many thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic region who care deeply about restoring the Chesapeake Bay tend to be pretty knowledgeable about the causes of the Bay's woes and even some of the key policy solutions for restoring it to health. These concerned citizens may even be familiar with the term "TMDL," a legal concept within the Clean Water Act that is probably completely foreign to most of the rest of the country. But what even the most committed ...

Aging Dams, Forgotten Perils

by Daniel Farber | October 11, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Critical U.S. infrastructure is dilapidated and unsafe. Regulation is weak, and enforcement is weaker. Everyone agrees on the need for action, and climate change will only make the problem worse, but no one seems to do anything about it. Sadly, this has become a familiar story. Take dams, for instance. A year ago, I noted that the federal government regulates the safety of only a small proportion ...

Trump's Decision to Hamstring California's Climate Authority Is Illogical and Uninformed

by Alejandro Camacho | October 07, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. For five decades California and the federal government have worked together in an innovative exercise in federalism aimed at achieving cleaner air. California has played an important role in controlling greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, particularly from motor vehicles. But now, contrary to law and in a massive departure from past practice, President Donald Trump has announced that his administration is pulling the rug ...

The World Bank Considers Stepping Back from Accountability

by David Hunter | September 19, 2019
For nearly two years, the World Bank Board of Directors has fumbled what should be an easy decision to modernize its Inspection Panel, the primary institution that addresses the damage the Bank's lending can do to local communities. At issue is whether the Panel should be able to monitor the Bank's implementation of Management Action Plans developed and approved in light of Panel investigations. What to all outside observers would seem like an inherent part of closing any complaint – ...

Abolition of Supplemental Environmental Projects: A Damaging Retreat for Environmental Enforcement

by Joel Mintz | September 18, 2019
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) quietly took a major step to undercut the enforcement of our federal pollution control laws. In a publicly released but little publicized memorandum, DOJ’s Associate Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, announced that the agency will no longer approve enforcement case settlements with local governments that include Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) – a long-standing feature of negotiated resolutions of environmental enforcement cases. SEPs allow a non-complying company, ...

A Welcome Victory in the D.C. Circuit

by Daniel Farber | September 17, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit decided Wisconsin v. EPA. The federal appeals court rejected industry attacks on a regulation dealing with interstate air pollution but accepted an argument by environmental groups that the regulation was too weak. Last week also featured depressing examples of the drumbeat of Trump administration rollbacks, so it was especially nice to have some good news. I hesitated about whether to write something about the case because the opinion makes for ...

Overshoot: Trump's Deregulatory Zeal Goes Beyond Even Where Industry Asks Him to Go

by Amy Sinden | September 16, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. The Trump EPA last month proposed a new plan to remove oil and gas developers’ responsibility for detecting and fixing methane leaks in their wells, pipelines and storage operations. This proposal to axe the Obama-era methane rule is notable for two reasons. First, it is a huge step backward in the race to stabilize the climate, just at the moment scientists warn we need to move forward ...

Trump's Legal Challenges to the California Car Deal

by Daniel Farber | September 09, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Prompting rage by President Trump, California and several carmakers entered into a voluntary agreement on carbon emissions from new cars that blew past the administration's efforts to repeal existing federal requirements. Last week, the Trump administration slapped back at California. Although there's been a lot of editorializing about that response, I've seen very little about the legal dimensions of the administration's actions. I'd like to shed a little bit of light on those. The administration ...

Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Next President

by Daniel Farber | September 06, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Under executive orders dating back to President Ronald Reagan, regulatory agencies like EPA are supposed to follow cost-benefit analysis when making decisions. Under the Trump administration, however, cost-benefit analysis has barely even served as window-dressing for its deregulatory actions. It has launched a series of efforts to prevent full counting of regulatory benefits, as well as committing any number of sins against economic principles, as I detailed in a post in January. Essentially, the administration ...

The Ball Is Back in EPA's Court Following Release of Final Bay Restoration Plans

by Evan Isaacson | September 04, 2019
Last week, the six Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia posted their final plans to meet the 2025 pollution reduction targets under the Bay cleanup effort known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load ("Bay TMDL" for short). These final Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) were, by and large, little different from the draft ones released this spring, at least for the big three Bay jurisdictions (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) that are responsible for roughly 90 percent of ...

Clearing the Air

by Daniel Farber | August 26, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. On Friday, the D.C. Circuit decided Murray Energy v. EPA. The court upheld EPA's health-based 2015 air quality standards for ozone against challenges from industry (rules too strong) and environmental groups (rules too weak). However, it rejected a grandfather clause that prevented the new standards from applying to plants whose permit applications were in-process when the standards were issued. It also required EPA to tighten up the "secondary standards" for ozone, which are intended to ...

The Hill Op-ed: We Need a Climate Plan for Agriculture

by Laurie Ristino | August 16, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. A special report released on Aug. 8 by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shines a stark light on how agriculture is both uniquely impacted by and a key driver of climate change, contributing up to 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the pressing need to reverse land degradation and forest conversion caused by food, feed and fiber production, as well as the significant climate mitigation opportunities of shifting to plant-based diets, especially in ...

A Letter to My Fellow Boomers about Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | August 15, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Polls show that a great many members of our generation oppose taking action against climate change. I want to try to explain to that group why you should rethink your views. Let me start by explaining why climate action would benefit you yourself and then widen the focus to include your grandchildren and their kids. Efforts to cut climate change right now aren't likely to have a big effect on climate in the next decade ...

Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline?

by Noah M Sachs | August 14, 2019
This commentary is excerpted from The American Prospect. Hiking south on the Appalachian Trail from Reeds Gap in Virginia, my teenage daughter and I come to a clearing. We’re at the Three Ridges Overlook, taking in the view of the Rockfish River Valley undulating to the east. Piney Mountain, blanketed in a green canopy of oaks and poplars, stares back at us from across the divide. This tranquil section of the iconic trail is the subject of a four-year legal battle ...

Environmental Policy

The planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Heading the list of threats is climate change, but other problems persist, including air and water pollution, toxic waste, and the protection of natural resources and wildlife. In recent years, we've been reminded that many of these problems , in their way, magnify the harm from natural disasters.

The GAO's New Environmental Justice Report

Owen | Oct 24, 2019 | Environmental Policy

2020 in the Courts: A Preview

Farber | Oct 22, 2019 | Environmental Policy

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