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Sept. 14, 2020 by Joel Mintz

Citizen Suits, Environmental Settlements, and the Constitution: Part I

This is the first post of a two-part set. Click to read Part II.

Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has shown increasing hostility to the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in settlements of federal environmental enforcement cases. Aside from a series of ever-tightening SEP policies, however, DOJ has never asserted in court that these projects are unconstitutional. At least not yet.

In a case pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, United States v. DTE Energy, Inc., the constitutionality of both SEPs and citizen suits in general may soon be at issue. The case began as a typical New Source Review matter in the Obama administration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Justice Department to sue DTE on the grounds that equipment updates to some of the company's electric generating stations were sufficiently significant that its plants must be subject to the relatively stringent emission standards applicable to new and modified air pollution sources. The Sierra Club intervened in the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff under the citizen suit provision of the Clean Air Act.

After protracted litigation, the federal courts decided the New …

Aug. 4, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Yesterday, I joined a group of CPR Member Scholars and staff in submitting comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) "benefits-busting" proposal, which would drastically overhaul how the agency performs cost-benefit analysis on its biggest Clean Air Act rules. As we explain in our comments, the action is a thinly veiled effort to rig the results of those analyses – more so than they already are – to make it harder to issue appropriately strong safeguards, thereby sabotaging the effective and timely implementation of the Clean Air Act.

Our comments lay out in detail several shortcomings of the benefits-busting proposal. To begin, the EPA lacks legal authority to issue a binding rule of this kind. But even if the agency did have such authority, the proposal would do little, if anything, to improve its regulatory decision-making given that cost-benefit analysis is either superfluous to or even prohibited by the …

July 29, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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In an article headlined, "Dozens of facilities skipping out on EPA pollution monitoring have prior offenses," The Hill reports the following today:

More than 50 facilities across the country that have faced enforcement actions for alleged Clean Water Act violations are among those taking advantage of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy that lets companies forgo pollution monitoring during the pandemic, an analysis by The Hill found. The temporary EPA policy, announced in March, says industrial, municipal and other facilities do not have to report pollution discharges if they can demonstrate their ability to do so has been limited by the coronavirus. The Hill first reported that 352 facilities have skipped water pollution monitoring requirements under the policy, which applies to air pollution as well. Of those facilities, 55 have faced formal enforcement actions in the past five years from either the EPA or state …

July 22, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Donald Trump is no stranger to leaving things worse off than he found them, and this is precisely what his administration now aims to do with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not just one of the most successful government institutions in the history of the United States, but indeed the world. Having worked quickly, if not sloppily, to dismantle every vestige of the Obama administration's efforts to promote cleaner air and water, the Trump EPA is now heading down a path of self-destruction. The agency's proposed "benefits-busting" rule, released early last month, is a big part of this campaign.

The benefits-busting rule is nominally about overhauling how the EPA does cost-benefit analysis for its Clean Air Act rules, but make no mistake: This action is really about putting that foundational law into concrete boots and shoving it into the nearest body of water. Future efforts to fulfill …

June 18, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

On June 16, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided two cases that add to the legal difficulties the Trump EPA will face in court. The difficulties relate to two proposed EPA rules that attempt to hamstring future efforts to impose tighter restrictions on pollution. Both EPA rules rely on vague, general grants of rulemaking authority from Congress. That just became more tenuous.

One of the EPA proposals is the so-called "science transparency rule," which is perversely designed to limit EPA's future ability to utilize well-regarded scientific studies. The other proposal will reduce the agency's flexibility in conducting cost-benefit analysis of future regulations.

In attempting to find legal authority for these rules, EPA has looked to general grants of rulemaking authority. One such law is the Federal Housekeeping Act. That law (which may not actually apply to …

June 11, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt, William Andreen
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We are five years out from the final 2025 deadline for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement, known as the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). With the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each of the Bay states has finalized the three required phases of their Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). This month, those states have released their draft 2020-2021 milestones, which, when final, will set out the key short-term goals states will work toward, stepping up their restoration work so that they can stay on track to meet their final 2025 pollution reduction goals.

Even though these five-year milestones play an important role in the accountability framework for the Bay TMDL, the WIPs serve as the main vehicle for comprehensively outlining how each state will achieve their commitments. Even the EPA has stated that the WIPs are the "cornerstone" of the Bay TMDL.

Despite …

June 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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June 1 marked the start of hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. While not welcome, tropical storms, strong winds, and storm surges are an inevitable fact of life for many residents of the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. As a new paper from the Center for Progressive Reform explains, with those storms can come preventable toxic flooding with public health consequences that are difficult to predict or control.

In Ernest Hemingway’s 1970 novel, Islands in the Stream, he wrote of his protagonist, Thomas Hudson, “He knew how to plot storms and the precautions that should be taken against them. He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”

Only Hemingway could romanticize hurricanes. And things have only gotten worse. Last month …

May 28, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt, Dave Owen
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Sometime soon, EPA is expected to release its final rule limiting state and tribal authority to conduct water quality certifications under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. A water quality certification is the most important tool states have to ensure that any federally permitted project complies with state water quality protections.

States often impose conditions on such projects that are more stringent than federal requirements in order to protect drinking water and local aquatic habitat, among other reasons. The Clean Water Act also empowers states to deny certifications and stop a project from moving forward if it would still violate the state's water quality standards even after conditions are imposed.

The rulemaking was spurred by an executive order from President Trump last year. The order directed the EPA to change the 401 certification process, with an ostensible focus on "the need to promote timely Federal-State cooperation …

May 20, 2020 by Darya Minovi, James Goodwin
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Earlier this week, we submitted a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticizing the agency's March 2020 supplemental proposal for its “censored science" rulemaking. This rule, among other things, would require the public release of underlying data for studies considered in regulatory decision-making, and thus might prevent the agency from relying on such seminal public health research as Harvard’s Six Cities study, which have formed the backbone of many of the EPA’s regulations, simply because they rely on confidential data.

First proposed during the brief and tumultuous tenure of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the rule, officially known by its Orwellian moniker “Strengthening Transparency for Regulatory Science,” has become a key part of the Trump administration’s assault on the agency’s credibility and authority. Indeed, the arrival of this administration has seen the EPA completely abandon its mission of protecting public health …

April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage …

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