The federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has proposed to revise its regulations administering the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions, and incorporate this information into their decisions. Government-wide guidance is provided by the White House’s CEQ, established by NEPA and appointed by the President. CEQ issues formal regulations that agencies must follow, and guidance documents that provide additional advice. CEQ also reviews agencies’ NEPA implementation programs, and publishes annual national Environmental Quality Reports.
Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog
On May 28, the Biden Administration issued its budget proposal for federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 (October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022). As anticipated based on statements from Mr. Biden while a candidate and since his inauguration, the proposal includes many dramatic changes from former president Trump’s proposed budgets. The administration proposes a 21.6 % ($2 billion) increase in the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget above EPA’s adopted 2021 budget of $9.2 billion. Roughly 90 percent of this increase is related to climate controls and environmental justice, broadly defined.
The federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish and maintain national air quality standards, including criteria for permits and other authorizations issued to (potential) emission sources by state or local air quality management agencies (with EPA itself as the default regulator if other agencies fail). Forms of authorization include permits for specified stationary emission sources, and equipment/emission standards for mobile sources and some components of stationary sources. Almost all requirements apply to “direct sources” – the equipment or activity that directly produces emissions.
The many overlaps and disjunctions in environmental protection laws mean that many situations are potentially subject to multiple laws and their associated enforcement provisions. On May 24, the US Supreme Court decided the latest incarnation in a long-running dispute between the federal government and the territory of Guam over contamination at a landfill, which included an earlier round involving the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the latest round involving the Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)) (Guam v. United States). The court decided that a 2004 settlement in a CWA enforcement case did not – and could not – affect Guam’s latest search for financial contributions to cleanup under CERCLA. This decision provides not just specific clarification of the relationship between two CWA and CERCLA cost recovery provisions, but also a general reminder about the need to craft settlements carefully.
President Biden is moving quickly to review and revise many of former President Trump’s administrative actions. As I discussed HERE, the fastest mechanisms for these reversals are executive orders (EOs) and slightly less formal executive memoranda from the President or his agency heads. One of the EOs signed on president Biden’s first day of office starts immediate action to review all Trump administrative actions. EO 13990 of January 20, 2021, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis”, applies to all federal agencies but focuses on President Trump’s environmental actions. The remainder of this note discusses this particular EO.
President Biden and the Democratic majorities in Congress have announced sweeping plans to reverse most of the Trump Administration’s environmental policies. The timing and practicality of these reversals depends very much on each of the targeted policy’s legal status – laws, regulations, Executive Orders, or guidance documents. The remainder of this note comments on each of these sets of situations, highlighting examples of each. I’ll discuss them in order ranging from quickest/easiest to most time consuming/difficult.
National waste management laws and regulations provide management requirements to the perceived hazards of each category, under overall regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Effective September 8, 2020, EPA will make extensive technical revisions to its standards for the “ignitability characteristic”, so entities that generate or manage wastes that might be ignitable should now review those wastes and associated management requirements.
One of the longest running sub-national greenhouse gas (GHG) control efforts in the U.S. has been the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program. RGGI provides a cap-and-trade program covering GHG emissions from targeted fossil fuel power plants in participating northeastern states. The program is preparing to add a new participating state in 2021 -- Virginia.Read More
Effective March 2, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued rules governing the agency’s administrative civil inspection procedures (40 CFR s. 31.1). These new rules meet a requirement created by President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) 13892 (“Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication”), issued October 9, 2019 (I wrote about this EO HERE). The new rules apply to on-site civil inspections conducted by EPA personnel, and to federally credentialled contractors and Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) employees conducting inspections on EPA’s behalf; they do not apply to criminal investigations, nor to state and state-credentialled inspections.Read More
Effective March 12, 2020, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) prohibits its US attorneys from entering into settlements in which DOJ lowers penalties for defendants that agree to conduct “supplemental environmental projects (SEPs)”, if the SEP involves payments to a third party. This action is the latest in a series of DOJ moves against SEPs since President Trump took office. The first such step was a June 2017 DOJ management memorandum directing US attorneys NOT to agree to SEPs that include payments to third parties (I wrote about that memo HERE). The second was an August 2019 memorandum restricting use of SEPs in Clean Water Act (CWA) cases against state and local governments, in which DOJ rejected arguments that recent legislation allows them (I wrote about that memo HERE).Read More