EPA Rescinds Major Provisions in Obama-Era RMP Rule

The Trump administration has rescinded and modified several major provisions in the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule that was added in the closing days of the Obama administration.

The Obama administration initiated the amendments to the RMP rule in the wake of the April 2013 West Fertilizer Co. explosion in West, Texas. President Obama issued Executive Order 13650, which called for enhanced information collection and sharing and modernization of rules and regulations. Following the issuance of the Executive Order, the EPA proposed amendments to the RMP rule in March 2016. After the proposal, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives concluded the West Fertilizer Co. explosion was not an accident but caused by arson. Nevertheless, the EPA moved forward, finalizing the amendments in January 2017.

Continue reading “EPA Rescinds Major Provisions in Obama-Era RMP Rule”

New York’s Case Against Exxon Fails Miserably

In a ruling that will likely have implications for climate change litigation across the United States, a state judge in New York has dismissed the New York Attorney General’s suit against ExxonMobil Corporation. The 55-page opinion issued by Jude Barry Ostrager is a scathing rebuke of the AG’s case.

Over the three and one-half years of investigation and legal proceedings, Exxon produced millions of pages of documents and dozens of people were deposed or interviewed. The AG made several claims against Exxon in the original petition, which Judge Ostrager called “hyperbolic.” At trial, the AG claimed that Exxon committed equitable and common law fraud and otherwise violated certain state laws, including the Martin Act which generally relates to misrepresentations associated with the sale or distribution of stocks or securities. The trial lasted twelve days and eighteen witnesses testified. Continue reading “New York’s Case Against Exxon Fails Miserably”

Objective Facts About Cancer In Louisiana’s Industrial Corridor

Locating along the Mississippi River in Louisiana provides a great deal of advantages to petrochemical facilities, such as access to natural gas and a global transportation network. These advantages have created an Industrial Corridor in the Louisiana parishes along the river, such as Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and West Baton Rouge.

One claim that is repeatedly made in opposition to new facilities or facility expansions is that people residing in the Industrial Corridor have a greater incidence and mortality from cancer. However, objective data contradicts these claims and establishes that cancer rates and deaths are lower than, or there is no significant difference from, the rest of the state. Continue reading “Objective Facts About Cancer In Louisiana’s Industrial Corridor”

The 2015 WOTUS Rule Is Repealed

The EPA and the Corps of Engineers have taken the first of two steps to repeal and replace the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ promulgated by the Obama Administration in 2015 (the 2015 Rule).  The definition establishes the jurisdictional reach of the EPA and Corps under the Clean Water Act to regulate navigable waterways, tributaries, and their adjacent wetlands.  The 2015 Rule had been widely criticized as being overly expansive because more waterways, tributaries, and wetlands were considered to be subject to jurisdiction.

When it was published, the 2015 Rule spawned lawsuits in multiple district courts and appellate courts, ultimately resulting in a patchwork of regulation.  In 22 states, the 2015 Rule applied, but in the rest of the states, the pre-2015 rule applied.  When the Trump Administration took office, it vowed to repeal the 2015 Rule (Step One) and replace it (Step Two) with a new definition that would clearly define where federal jurisdiction begins and ends in accordance with the CWA and Supreme Court precedent.  The Step Two proposal for a new definition was published in December, 2018. Continue reading “The 2015 WOTUS Rule Is Repealed”

The Upcoming Battle Over Water Quality Certifications

Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) states that a federal agency may not issue a permit to conduct any activity that may result in any discharge into waters of the U.S., unless the state where the discharge would originate either issues a water quality certification or waives the certification requirement. Under Section 401, an applicant for a federal permit must submit a request for a certification to the state, which has a reasonable period of time (not more than a year) to grant the certification, grant the certification with conditions, deny the certification or waive the opportunity.

Congress enacted Section 401 as an exercise in cooperative federalism to allow states to help protect the water quality of federally regulated waters within their borders in collaboration with federal agencies. In recent years, though, several states that oppose the construction of natural gas pipelines have denied Section 401 certifications or used Section 401 to delay the issuance of the federal permit. For example, upon submittal of the certification request, the state would request more and more information to avoid the beginning of the review timeframe.

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A Few Hurdles to Facility Siting

A modern industrial facility requires a large tract of land ideally located in an area designated for industrial use that has access to an existing transportation matrix for raw materials and products. In Louisiana, for example, the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River offers ready access to natural gas pipelines, rail transportation, and barge and ship loading and unloading.

However, when such large tracts are available, there is inevitably a community within a mile or two of the proposed location. Further, local governments in these communities are increasingly enacting ordinances that mandate local approval of facilities. These two developments present hurdles to successfully obtaining the necessary authorizations to begin construction. Continue reading “A Few Hurdles to Facility Siting”

EPA Turns from Enforcement to Compliance Initiatives

For years, EPA routinely announced national enforcement initiatives, focusing its enforcement and compliance resources on the most serious environmental violations at facilities across the nation. In August 2018, EPA announced that it intended to “evolve” the enforcement initiatives into compliance initiatives. EPA stated at the time that increased compliance is the ultimate goal and enforcement-oriented actions are not the only tool to achieve that goal.

Following up on its announcement, in June 2019 EPA issued its National Compliance Initiatives (NCIs) for fiscal year (FY) 2020-FY 2023, in which it established six priority areas as NCIs. EPA stated that it will utilize the full range of compliance assurance tools such as compliance assistance, self-audits and informal enforcement, but that formal enforcement will remain an important tool to address serious noncompliance and create general deterrence. Continue reading “EPA Turns from Enforcement to Compliance Initiatives”