A Return to Regulation?

The prospect of a Biden Administration signals the likely return to active and aggressive regulation of environmental matters. In a fashion similar to the Trump Administration’s approach to Obama-era regulations, the Biden Administration has already vowed to not only reverse Trump-era de-regulation but go beyond the Obama Administration’s regulatory efforts.

Perhaps the most glaring example is addressing what the Biden-Harris Transition web-site calls the “existential threat of climate change.” Mr. Biden promises to “recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change” and to “go much further than that” by “lead[ing] an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.” Indeed, Mr. Biden pledges to “put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.”

The Paris Agreement calls for “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels” through nationally determined contributions (NDC) to carbon emission reductions. The United States’ NDC was a 26-28 per cent reduction below its 2005 level by 2025. According to EPA, gross GHG emissions were reduced between 2005 and 2018 from 7,392 MMT CO2 Eq. to 6,677 MMT CO2 Eq.

It is unknown at this time to what extent Mr. Biden will “ramp up” the United States’ already ambitious climate targets or exactly how Mr. Biden intends to achieve the “ramp up.” He has stated that he would invest billions in clean energy development, that he would transition away from the oil industry by 2050, and that he would phase out or end fracking on federal lands. It is also likely that Mr. Biden would reverse the Trump Administration’s roll-back of the oil and gas sector methane rule.

Another example relates to environmental justice. Mr. Biden states that he wants to “ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build” the clean energy infrastructure and go about “righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution.” EPA defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Mr. Biden does not provide specifics but does state that a Biden Administration will create “good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind,” presumably in clean energy endeavors. The creation of jobs in the clean energy sector may be how he intends to right the wrongs in potentially over-polluted communities, but it is more likely that there will be a greater push to limit or restrict industrial development in such areas.

There are numerous other Trump-era executive orders and regulations that a Biden Administration will likely address. As to the executive orders, they are easily reversed and Mr.; Biden has signaled he plans to do so. As to promulgated regulations, EPA must proceed through the notice-and-comment requirements imposed by the Administrative Procedure Act. However, regulations that are finalized in the last days of the Trump Administration may be subject to repeal under the Congressional Review Act, which was used in 2017 to repeal several Obama-era regulations. Although there is much speculation at this time, it is likely that the de-regulatory agenda pushed by the Trump Administration will be replaced with a re-regulatory agenda under a Biden Administration. To ensure some growth opportunities remain, industrial concerns will have to oppose the Biden agenda as assertively as the environmental groups opposed the Trump agenda.

EPA’s 500th Day Victory Lap

On the 500th day of the Trump Administration, EPA touted its “notable policy achievements,” highlighting nine such achievements in a “promises made, promises kept” format. However, some of the noted achievements are works in progress and perhaps need more concrete results before a ‘mission accomplished’ banner is hung at EPA headquarters.

The nine ‘achievements’ listed by EPA include: withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, ensuring clean air and water, reducing burdensome government regulations, repealing the so-called “Clean Power Plan,” repealing the Waters of the United States Rule, promoting energy dominance, promoting science transparency, ending ‘sue and settle,’ and promoting certainty to the auto industry. Continue reading “EPA’s 500th Day Victory Lap”

Will EPA achieve its core mission?

President Trump has signaled a desire to reduce the burden caused by environmental regulations. An executive order issued Jan. 30 requires that two rules be identified for repeal for every new rule proposed. He issued another executive order Feb. 24 announcing that it is the official policy of the U.S. to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens. At the same time, though, the president has stated he wants to reinvigorate the manufacturing and oil and gas development sectors, while also shortening the environmental review process for major infrastructure projects. Continue reading “Will EPA achieve its core mission?”

Presentation at the Louisiana Environmental Conference – Federal Regulatory Update

This presentation was given at the Louisiana Environmental Conference in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 16, 2017. It provides a great deal of detailed information about actions the Trump Administration has taken regarding the environment. There has been a lot of activity and there promises to be much, much more. As always, stay tuned!

Is It Time to Lift the Oil Export Ban?

The export of crude oil was largely banned in reaction to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Now, momentum seems to be in favor of reversing the ban. Many argue that doing so will substantially enhance the U.S. economy by increasing domestic production, creating jobs, and reducing consumer fuel prices. Continue reading “Is It Time to Lift the Oil Export Ban?”

EPA and Corps Expand Their Jurisdiction Over Waters and Wetlands

Over the objections of multiple national, state, and local groups, the EPA and the Corps of Engineers have published their final rule regarding the definition of ‘waters of the United States.’ Although they claim that the new definition merely ‘clarifies’ their existing jurisdiction, it actually expands their regulatory authority to waters and wetlands to an extent not contemplated when the Clean Water Act (CWA) was originally passed. The scope of jurisdiction is critically important because a costly and time-consuming permit is required to place materials in wetlands or other waters deemed jurisdictional. Continue reading “EPA and Corps Expand Their Jurisdiction Over Waters and Wetlands”

The New Coal Combustion Residuals Rule – An Implementation and Enforcement Nightmare


Almost five years after the proposal, EPA has issued its final rule regarding the disposal and beneficial use of coal combustion residuals (CCRs). The rule establishes federal standards for landfills and surface impoundments in which CCRs are disposed.

Importantly, though, the rule leaves the enforcement of those standards to citizens. This method of enforcement exposes owners and operators of CCR units to uncertain outcomes and litigation costs in a variety of different courts. Continue reading “The New Coal Combustion Residuals Rule – An Implementation and Enforcement Nightmare”

Why Should You Worry About Environmental Laws?

Environmental laws and regulations govern many activities in the construction and aggregates industries. Due to the nature and complexity of environmental regulation, this brief summary simply cannot comprehensively explain everything that may affect you and your business. However, it will touch on three of the main areas (water, air, and waste) and provide some basic information so you can generally assess whether you may have an issue that needs to be addressed. As Ben Franklin once said – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Why is this important? Inspections and potential enforcement actions by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) are bad enough. But, other time-consuming actions could hamper your company as a result of unknowingly violating environmental laws. Third-parties, such as neighbors or environmental groups, have the right to file a ‘citizen’s suit’ against your company for environmental violations. General laws of nuisance, trespass, and tort may form the basis for a suit. When wetlands may be involved, the Corps of Engineers may issue stop-work orders, shutting down your job. Continue reading “Why Should You Worry About Environmental Laws?”

The Ever-Expanding Regulatory Burden

The number of regulations and pages in the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations is already staggering and growing at a record pace. From 2002 to 2008, the number of total pages, by year, in the Federal Register was between a low of 71,269 pages in 2003 and a high of 79,435 pages in 2008. After a dip to 68,598 pages in 2009, the 2010 and 2011 totals were 81,405 and 81,247, respectively. While the number of pages of the Federal Register fluctuated in the 70,000 range until 2010 and 2011, the number of total pages in the Code of Federal Regulations has trended upward from 145,099 in 2002 to 169,301 in 2011. Collectively, federal agencies issued 3,573 final rules in 2010 and 3,807 in 2011, according to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register. Continue reading “The Ever-Expanding Regulatory Burden”

Federal Government Issues New Hydraulic Fracturing Rules

Two rules impacting hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have been issued or proposed by the federal government. EPA has issued emission standards relating to fracking and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed a rule for fracking on public and Indian lands.

On April 17, EPA issued a final rule governing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and air toxics resulting from hydraulic fracturing and refracturing. The rule is a revision to existing New Source Performance Standards and applies to several aspects of the oil and natural gas industry. As to fracking, though, the rule finalizes operational standards for completions of hydraulically fractured and refractured gas wells. A well completion is defined as the flowback period beginning after hydraulic fracturing and ending with either well shut-in or when the well continuously flows to the flow line or a storage vessel for collection, whichever occurs first. Continue reading “Federal Government Issues New Hydraulic Fracturing Rules”