Following Governor Abbott’s recent proclamation of a state of disaster in Texas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) have issued guidance for regulated entities relating to environmental compliance concerns as well as other useful information relative to agency operations during these uncertain times.
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On March 2, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its new Multi-Sector General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (MSGP), which authorizes the discharge of stormwater associated with industrial activity. 85 Feb. Reg. 12,288 (March 2, 2020). The 2015 MSGP expires on June 4, 2020. The MSGP authorizes stormwater discharges associated with a wide range of facilities and activities, including oil and gas, mining and mineral processing and manufacturing, among other operations.

The MSGP authorizes discharges in only those states where EPA is still the NPDES permitting authority (Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico), Indian country, US Territories and other select jurisdictions. However, most states model their state-specific industrial stormwater permits on the EPA’s MSGP, which makes this permit important as the trendsetter.
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National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultations are high on the list of project time, cost and risk drivers. The impact of these environmental reviews on projects often turns on the scope of those reviews, which in turn depends on determining which effects will be caused by the action. In August 2019 the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service established, for the first time, a regulatory causation standard governing ESA section 7 consultations, and, in January 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality proposed a new regulatory causation standard governing NEPA reviews.
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From California to the South China Sea, uncertainties surrounding offshore oil and gas platform decommissioning regulations and financial obligations pose a significant risk to the environment and to responsible natural resource development. “Rigs to reefs” decommissioning pioneered in the US Gulf Coast provides a model promising reduced costs, a net reduction in environmental impacts and enhanced ecological benefits; welcomed in some jurisdictions and questioned in others, time will tell whether RTR can deliver its promises.
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On January 9, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released its highly anticipated proposed rule to improve its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The proposed changes would be the first comprehensive amendment of the NEPA regulations since their original publication in 1978. CEQ’s proposed changes are designed to streamline and speed the NEPA review process, clarify important NEPA concepts, and codify key guidance and case law. CEQ’s Proposal is informed by comments it received on last year’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

NEPA requires that federal agencies analyze the environmental effects of their proposed federal actions. This means that virtually any project that requires a federal permit or authorization could be required to undergo a NEPA review. Development of broadband infrastructure, roads, bridges, oil and gas pipelines, and renewable energy facilities are just a few examples of the types of activities that could trigger NEPA. A NEPA review can take significant agency and applicant resources, can substantially delay permits and can provide a basis for a federal court challenge to the project.
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On January 9, 2020, conservation groups filed a second phase of litigation in the DC District Court challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) issuance of over 2,000 oil and gas leases across five western states citing climate change concerns. The groups are requesting that the court, among other things, vacate all 2,000 leases and require the BLM to conduct additional climate change impact analysis for each lease.
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On August 12, 2019, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service signed final rules instituting the first comprehensive revisions to Endangered Species Act regulations in 33 years. The Services made substantial revisions to their regulations concerning listing and delisting species, critical habitat designations, consultation with federal agencies and the process for establishing protections for threatened species. Two states and numerous environmental groups have signaled their plan to challenge the new rules.
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