Federal environmental reviews are high on the list of project time, costs and risk drivers. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation are often chief among those drivers. The impact of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement or Biological Opinion (such as scheduling; consultant, mitigation and market opportunity costs; and litigation risks) often turns on the scope of analysis, which in turn depends on determining which effects will be caused by the action. In August 2019, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) established, for the first time, a regulatory causation standard governing ESA section 7 consultations, and, in January 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed a new rule clarifying the causation standard and scope of review under NEPA.
Since the first Gulf of Mexico rig was installed in 1947, over 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms have been installed globally. A 2016 study forecasts 600 will require decommissioning by 2021 and 2,000 more by 2040 at a cost of US$210 billion. Many newer platforms are sited in deeper waters, facing higher decommissioning costs and complexity.
The reach of the CWA is “notoriously unclear.” Sackett v. EPA, 132 S. Ct. 1367, 1375 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring). It can be difficult for a landowner to understand whether wetlands or a small creek on his or her parcel, for example, are federal waters that require a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit before the landowner can begin work to build a home, develop the property, or cultivate the land. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) issued a new, long-awaited final rule, titled the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which seeks to streamline and clarify the geographic scope of federal CWA jurisdiction.
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.
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.
A Texas judge has ruled that Hunton Andrews Kurth is entitled to coverage from Great Northern Insurance Co., a unit of Chubb, Ltd. (Chubb), for losses its predecessor firm suffered when Hurricane Harvey closed its Houston office and disrupted business in 2017.
The court agreed with Hunton’s position that the policy, written specifically for a law firm, covered its business income loss until the firm’s operations were restored to their pre-loss levels. The court rejected in its entirety Chubb’s argument that coverage lasted only until the physical damage that closed the building had been repaired. Rather, siding with Hunton, the court found that the policy language affords, in addition to ordinary business income coverage during the damage period, “extended period” coverage that commences after the damaged property is repaired and after the firm’s operations resume.
Last week, Annie Kuster (D-NH) along with four other Democratic members of Congress introduced a proposed Natural Gas Act (NGA) amendment aimed at banning the use of eminent domain for construction or expansion of interstate natural gas pipeline infrastructure through lands subject to conservation restrictions in favor of, or owned by, non-profit entities or local governments. The proposed legislation is “The Protecting Our Conserved Lands Act of 2019.” Continue Reading Proposed Legislation Seeks to Block Pipelines From Vaguely-Defined “Conservation” Lands without Considering Adverse Impacts of Re-Routes
Over the past few years, certain states have relied on ambiguities in the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 water quality certification process to block the construction of significant energy infrastructure projects (e.g., oil and gas pipelines, coal export facilities, and liquid natural gas [LNG] terminals) determined by federal agencies to be in the public interest of individual states, regions, and the nation as a whole. Consistent with the cooperative federalism structure of the CWA—and the important role of states in protecting water quality within their borders—Section 401 requires applicants for a federal license or permit anticipated to result in discharges to navigable waters to obtain a certification from the relevant state that the discharge will comply with applicable state water quality standards. States can waive this requirement, and if they do not act within “a reasonable period of time (which shall not exceed one year) after receipt” of the request for the certification, waiver is automatic. 33 U.S.C. § 1341(a). Continue Reading EPA Proposes to Increase Predictability and Timeliness of Water Quality Certification Process
Yesterday, EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers (together, the Agencies) signed and made available a pre-publication version of the highly anticipated repeal of the 2015 WOTUS Rule, which will place the entire country under the pre-2015 Rule regime while the Trump administration works to complete its replacement WOTUS definition. Continue Reading Long-Awaited Repeal Rule Ends Patchwork of WOTUS Implementation
Over the last year or so, anti-pipeline forces have increasingly used “tree sitting” to obstruct natural gas infrastructure projects. The tactic involves individuals who climb trees slated for removal in a proposed pipeline project and stay there—sometimes for months and often aided by family, friends or others—forcing project developers to take various countermeasures.
Earlier this month a Virginia federal district judge rejected a novel effort by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP) to join certain unnamed tree sitters (“Tree Sitter 1” and “Tree Sitter 2”) as defendants in a pending Natural Gas Act (NGA) eminent domain action to condemn easements over land in southwestern Virginia for construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In addition to interfering with its use of the easements being condemned, MVP alleged that the “tree sitters” or their supporters had assaulted a security officer who was part of a tree clearing crew on the project. Notably, though it declined to join the “tree sitters” as parties, the court observed that MVP still had other available remedies against them. Continue Reading Pipeline Company Can’t Join “Tree Sitters” in NGA Condemnation Action, But Still Has Other Remedies Against Them, Virginia Federal Court Says