State Court Deals Major Setback to Effort to Reform and Modernize Maryland Stormwater Permits

by Evan Isaacson | March 17, 2016

Maryland’s high court ruled last week in favor of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in a challenge by several advocacy groups against five municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by MDE. While reading the lengthy opinion on my computer, I felt at times like a raving sports fan yelling at the TV in frustration. My frustration was borne not of the court’s specific arguments, or even of concerns over any far-reaching legal implications of the decision. Rather, to understand why this decision has generated such frustration, it is important to understand the timing and context of this decision.

Generally speaking, court decisions merely upholding existing programs and the status quo, such as in the present case, rarely generate outrage. Moreover, I acknowledge that reasonable minds certainly can differ in interpreting complicated legal matters, as each of the seven reasonable minds on Maryland’s Court of Appeals differed with each of the three reasonable minds on the Court of Special Appeals. But it is difficult for anyone following the implementation of Maryland’s MS4 permits not to be disappointed that the court upheld a series of permits, which have failed to deliver benefits after: six years under the Chesapeake Bay restoration process known as the Bay TMDL; a dozen years under the current MS4 permit structure created by MDE; and three decades since Congress created the statutory concept of an MS4 permit.

The court began its opinion by tracing a path from ...

CPR Scholars Testify on Judicial Deference to Agency Discretion

by Matthew Freeman | March 15, 2016
Later today, not one but two CPR Member Scholars will testify today before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law. Emily Hammond and Richard J. Pierce both offer some perspective on the limits and scope of judicial deference to federal regulatory agencies. Pierce sketches out the long history of jurisprudence on the subject, noting that, Until late in the Nineteenth century, courts could not and did not review the vast majority of agency actions. The ...

Clean Water Act Jurisdiction and the Changing Supreme Court

by Dave Owen | March 07, 2016
Since Justice Scalia’s passing, the blogosphere has been abuzz with speculation about how the changed composition of the Court will affect environmental law. This post adds a little more to that speculation. My focus is not the Clean Power Plan litigation, which has (justifiably) gathered much of the attention, but instead the litigation over the joint EPA-Army Corps Clean Water Rule. And my prediction is a bit different from most predictions about the Clean Power Plan. Here, I predict, that ...

Roberts Denies Mercury Stay

by Daniel Farber | March 03, 2016
Chief Justice Roberts turned down a request this morning to stay EPA’s mercury rule. Until the past month, this would have been completely un-noteworthy, because such a stay would have been unprecedented. But the Court’s startling recent stay of the EPA Clean Power Plan suggested that the door might have been wide open.  Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true. In some ways, a stay in this case would be even more shocking than the earlier one. Only the states, not industry, were ...

Steinzor Reacts to SCOTUS Chesapeake Bay Case

by Rena Steinzor | February 29, 2016
The Supreme Court today denied certiorari in a case challenging the watershed-wide effort led by the EPA to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. The Court's action leaves standing a lower court ruling upholding the effort. CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, issued the following reaction: "The Supreme Court's decision is a milestone victory for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and the thousands of local waters in the Bay watershed. Today's ...

Unleashing the Lower Courts

by Daniel Farber | February 25, 2016
There’s already been a lot written about how Justice Scalia’s untimely death will affect pending cases, not to mention speculation about the possible nominees to replace him. Less attention has been given to the effect on the lower courts. Yet Justice Scalia’s departure gives liberal judges in lower courts more freedom than they’ve had in the past. Here, I’m specifically thinking of the D.C. Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, which between them are the most important forums for environmental litigation. ...

Justice Scalia and the American Eco-Kulturkampf

by Robert Verchick | February 22, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair sits empty, draped in black wool to honor a man whose intellect and fire-breathing keyboard helped reshape the nation’s political landscape. Depending on how things go, that chair could be empty for a while. Unlike more recent nominations to replace a Justice, a nomination from President Obama could reorient the Court away from its long-standing conservative tilt toward something more progressive or even merely moderate. In the current session alone, important cases involving affirmative ...

Justice Scalia and Environmental Law

by Daniel Farber | February 16, 2016
Scalia's decisions were almost unremittingly anti-environmental. Over the past three decades, Justice Scalia did much to shape environmental law, nearly always in a conservative direction.  Because of the importance of his rulings, environmental lawyers and scholars are all familiar with his work.  But for the benefit of others, I thought it might be helpful to summarize his major environmental decisions.  The upshot was to restrict EPA’s authority to interpret environmental statutes, make property rights a stronger bulwark against environmental protection, ...

The Clean Power Plan: Continuing Momentum after the Supreme Court’s Stay

by Alice Kaswan | February 10, 2016
The Supreme Court’s February 9 stay of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan may have removed the states’ immediate compliance obligations, and it will undoubtedly remove some pressure for action in states resistant to change.  Nonetheless, the extensive data and fundamental state and regional planning processes generated by the Clean Power Plan (the Plan) may continue to bear fruit even as the Plan remains in legal limbo. The Clean Power Plan has already triggered progress.  To determine feasible reductions on ...

Supreme Court Stays Clean Power Plan

by Victor Flatt | February 10, 2016
In a surprising moves to legal experts, the Supreme Court yesterday in a 5-4 ruling stayed the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) supporting greenhouse gas reductions at fossil fuel fired power plants.  The move was surprising because the Supreme Court rarely involves itself in the determinations of whether or not a temporary stay of legal implications is warranted, largely leaving that to lower courts.  The D.C. Circuit, two weeks ago, refused to grant a stay, meaning that ...

Confusion, Frustration as Maryland High Court Hears Stormwater Permits Case

by Evan Isaacson | November 18, 2015
Last week the Maryland Court of Appeals heard several hours of oral argument in back to back (to back) cases regarding whether five different municipal stormwater (“MS4”) permits issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) complied with the federal Clean Water Act and state water pollution laws. Although divided into separate cases due to their unique procedural histories, the three cases were consolidated into one marathon oral argument due to the substantial overlap of the issues involved. The ...

The Irony of the Sixth Circuit's Clean Water Rule Stay

by Dave Owen | October 14, 2015
Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay of implementation of the new Army Corps/EPA Clean Water Rule.  This sounds like a very big deal, and the state plaintiffs who won the stay will no doubt describe this as a major victory.  Those proclamations will conceal, however, a few layers of complexity and irony. The legal basis for the ruling is an administrative law principle known as the logical outgrowth rule.  Under this principle, ...

Farm Bureau Loses Another Clean Water Case

by Evan Isaacson | August 14, 2015
This week provided another important legal decision in the fight to regulate polluted runoff from agriculture.  A California lower court on Tuesday ordered the State Water Quality Control Board to reconsider its ineffective regulations on agricultural operations in the Central Coast region.  Judge Timothy Frawley of the Sacramento Superior Court ruled in favor of the Monterey Coastkeeper, the Otter Project, and other environmental and commercial and recreational groups, as well as a resident who could no longer drink her tap ...

CPR Scholars Submit Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Case FERC v. Electric Power Supply Association

by Erin Kesler | July 16, 2015
Today, CPR Member Scholars, with a larger group of law professors, submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) v. Electric Power Supply Association. The professors submitted the brief because, "they believe that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit made serious errors when it held that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) lacked authority to regulate operators’ rules for demand response (DR) in the wholesale electricity markets. That holding is contrary ...

The Implications of Michigan v. EPA for Regulation of Hazardous Air Pollutants and Beyond

by Robert Glicksman | July 06, 2015
The following post is based on an article by Professor Glicksman on the George Washington Law Review website.[1] In Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency,[2] Justice Scalia, for a 5-4 majority, held that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s failure to consider cost at the initial stage of deciding whether to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from electric generating units (EGUs or power plants) under § 112 of the Clean Air Act (CAA), even though it gave ample consideration to cost at ...

Michigan v. EPA: Costs Matter, But Everything Else Is Up For Grabs

by Lisa Heinzerling | June 30, 2015
In Michigan v. EPA, the Supreme Court reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to regulate power plants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act. Section 112 is the provision regulating toxic air pollutants, such as mercury. The question before the Court was whether EPA reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act to allow EPA to decline to consider costs in deciding whether to regulate power plants under section 112. The Court held that it was not reasonable to interpret the Act ...

The Supreme Court Gives Power Plants a Mercury Break

by Thomas McGarity | June 30, 2015
Yesterday, the Supreme Court in Michigan v. EPA threw out EPA’s regulations protecting the American public from mercury and other hazardous emissions of power plants. In another instance of judicial activism by the Roberts court, the majority refused to defer to EPA’s decision to ignore costs in deciding whether to regulate power plant emissions. The decision turned on the meaning of the word “appropriate” in a section of the Clean Air Act that addressed hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from ...

King v. Burwell and EPA's Climate Rules

by Lisa Heinzerling | June 26, 2015
The Supreme Court's decision in King v. Burwell is, of course, most important for its central holding that the Affordable Care Act's federal subsidies are available even on federally established health exchanges. The decision preserves health insurance subsidies for millions of people who have begun to benefit from them and avoids the ridiculous spectacle of taking the subsidies away based on four words ("established by the State") in a lengthy and complicated statute. But for those who, like me, are not health ...

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