Abolition of Supplemental Environmental Projects: A Damaging Retreat for Environmental Enforcement

by Joel Mintz | September 18, 2019

Late last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) quietly took a major step to undercut the enforcement of our federal pollution control laws. In a publicly released but little publicized memorandum, DOJ’s Associate Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, announced that the agency will no longer approve enforcement case settlements with local governments that include Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) – a long-standing feature of negotiated resolutions of environmental enforcement cases.

SEPs allow a non-complying company, state, or local government to develop an environmentally beneficial project, not otherwise required by law, in lieu of paying part of its fine. To implement its SEP program, EPA carefully crafted a Policy on Supplemental Environmental Projects with the intention of ensuring that SEPs are limited to projects that improve public health or the environment while not directly benefitting a violator or third parties. Under EPA’s policy, acceptable SEPs – such as local public health monitoring for the impacts of a defendant’s pollution or helping to restore an ecosystem affected by that pollution – must relate directly to the underlying violation at issue in the enforcement action. The same policy specifically bars certain projects – such as those that will become profitable to defendants within five years – from being approved.

In fact, SEPs have immense practical benefits for regulators and regulated parties alike. SEPs created consistent with EPA’s policy have proven especially attractive to local governments and industries hoping ...

A Welcome Victory in the D.C. Circuit

by Daniel Farber | September 17, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit decided Wisconsin v. EPA. The federal appeals court rejected industry attacks on a regulation dealing with interstate air pollution but accepted an argument by environmental groups that the regulation was too weak. Last week also featured depressing examples of the drumbeat of Trump administration rollbacks, so it was especially nice to have some good news. I hesitated about whether to write something about the case because the opinion makes for ...

Overshoot: Trump's Deregulatory Zeal Goes Beyond Even Where Industry Asks Him to Go

by Amy Sinden | September 16, 2019
Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. The Trump EPA last month proposed a new plan to remove oil and gas developers’ responsibility for detecting and fixing methane leaks in their wells, pipelines and storage operations. This proposal to axe the Obama-era methane rule is notable for two reasons. First, it is a huge step backward in the race to stabilize the climate, just at the moment scientists warn we need to move forward ...

Trump's Legal Challenges to the California Car Deal

by Daniel Farber | September 09, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Prompting rage by President Trump, California and several carmakers entered into a voluntary agreement on carbon emissions from new cars that blew past the administration's efforts to repeal existing federal requirements. Last week, the Trump administration slapped back at California. Although there's been a lot of editorializing about that response, I've seen very little about the legal dimensions of the administration's actions. I'd like to shed a little bit of light on those. The administration ...

Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Next President

by Daniel Farber | September 06, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Under executive orders dating back to President Ronald Reagan, regulatory agencies like EPA are supposed to follow cost-benefit analysis when making decisions. Under the Trump administration, however, cost-benefit analysis has barely even served as window-dressing for its deregulatory actions. It has launched a series of efforts to prevent full counting of regulatory benefits, as well as committing any number of sins against economic principles, as I detailed in a post in January. Essentially, the administration ...

The Ball Is Back in EPA's Court Following Release of Final Bay Restoration Plans

by Evan Isaacson | September 04, 2019
Last week, the six Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia posted their final plans to meet the 2025 pollution reduction targets under the Bay cleanup effort known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load ("Bay TMDL" for short). These final Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) were, by and large, little different from the draft ones released this spring, at least for the big three Bay jurisdictions (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) that are responsible for roughly 90 percent of ...

Clearing the Air

by Daniel Farber | August 26, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. On Friday, the D.C. Circuit decided Murray Energy v. EPA. The court upheld EPA's health-based 2015 air quality standards for ozone against challenges from industry (rules too strong) and environmental groups (rules too weak). However, it rejected a grandfather clause that prevented the new standards from applying to plants whose permit applications were in-process when the standards were issued. It also required EPA to tighten up the "secondary standards" for ozone, which are intended to ...

The Hill Op-ed: We Need a Climate Plan for Agriculture

by Laurie Ristino | August 16, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. A special report released on Aug. 8 by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shines a stark light on how agriculture is both uniquely impacted by and a key driver of climate change, contributing up to 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the pressing need to reverse land degradation and forest conversion caused by food, feed and fiber production, as well as the significant climate mitigation opportunities of shifting to plant-based diets, especially in ...

A Letter to My Fellow Boomers about Climate Change

by Daniel Farber | August 15, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Polls show that a great many members of our generation oppose taking action against climate change. I want to try to explain to that group why you should rethink your views. Let me start by explaining why climate action would benefit you yourself and then widen the focus to include your grandchildren and their kids. Efforts to cut climate change right now aren't likely to have a big effect on climate in the next decade ...

Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline?

by Noah M Sachs | August 14, 2019
This commentary is excerpted from The American Prospect. Hiking south on the Appalachian Trail from Reeds Gap in Virginia, my teenage daughter and I come to a clearing. We’re at the Three Ridges Overlook, taking in the view of the Rockfish River Valley undulating to the east. Piney Mountain, blanketed in a green canopy of oaks and poplars, stares back at us from across the divide. This tranquil section of the iconic trail is the subject of a four-year legal battle ...

Big Coal Ash Settlement in Pennsylvania Shows One Path Forward for Bay Restoration

by Evan Isaacson | August 08, 2019
Chesapeake Bay and clean water advocates in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region celebrated a significant legal win last week as Talen Energy, owner of the notorious Brunner Island coal-fired power plant, agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The settlement is big news first and foremost because it will result in the closure and excavation of a massive coal ash disposal pond and the treatment of a number of other ponds, thus eliminating a significant ...

Get Ready for Phase 2 of the Deregulation Wars

by Daniel Farber | August 05, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. The first phase of Trump's regulatory rollbacks has been directed against Obama's climate change regulations. Those deregulatory actions will be finalized soon. What happens next will be in the hands of the courts. But the Trump EPA is now beginning a new phase in its attack on environmental regulation. Having tried to eliminate climate regulation, its next move will be an attack on basic protections against air pollution. The Clean Air Act, the federal air ...

The Flight of the Bumblebee

by Daniel Farber | July 30, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. Last Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals halted efforts to build a natural gas pipeline because the Trump administration had done such a lousy job of showing its compliance with the Endangered Species Act. This was one of the administration's many losses in court. The case involved a perfect example of "arbitrary and capricious" decision making, to use the legal terminology. In simpler terms, the government's explanation for its decision was as full of ...

The Cost-Benefit Boomerang

by Amy Sinden | July 29, 2019
This commentary was originally published by The American Prospect. Everyone in communications knows how to bury a news story: release it late on a Friday. So it was with the White House’s annual report on federal regulations, released months behind schedule on a Friday in February. As it has for many years, the report pegged the benefits of federal regulation in the hundreds of billions of dollars, swamping the calculated costs of compliance by at least 2 to 1 and ...

ACE or Joker? Trump's Self-Defeating Climate Rule

by Daniel Farber | July 25, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet. To hear President Trump talk, the point of deregulation is to reduce the burden of regulation on industry. But weirdly enough, that doesn't turn out to be true of Trump's effort to repeal Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP) and replace it with his own Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. Both rules regulate carbon emissions from power plants (though Trump's rule covers only coal plants). According to his own EPA, however, the Trump administration's approach will ...

Justice Stevens and the Rule of (Environmental) Law

by Daniel Farber | July 18, 2019
Originally published on Legal Planet There's already been a lot written in the aftermath of Justice Stevens's death, including Ann Carlson's excellent Legal Planet post earlier this week. I'd like to add something about an aspect of his jurisprudence that had great relevance to environmental law: his belief in the rule of law, and specifically, in the duty of both the judiciary and the executive branch to respect and implement congressional mandates. This stance was evident in Justice Stevens's decision ...

The Hill Op-ed: Trump Trashes the Natural World and Calls It 'Environmental Leadership'

by Joel Mintz | July 17, 2019
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill. In a recent speech, President Trump touted what he described as "America's environmental leadership" during his presidency. He claimed that over the past two-and-a-half years, his administration has been "a good steward of public land," reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, and successfully promoted clean air and water.  His claims are Orwellian in scope and mendacity. Even the most cursory examination of the Trump administration's environmental record reveals an appalling litany of irresponsible, anti-environmental ...

Op-Ed Shines Light on Trump EPA's Efforts to Re-Rig Cost-Benefit Analysis for Polluters

by James Goodwin | July 02, 2019
Last night, CPR Member Scholar Amy Sinden and I published an op-ed in The Hill explaining the dangers of a new rulemaking recently launched by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and former air office Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum. Through this rulemaking, Wheeler and Wehrum – both former industry lobbyists – will kick off the EPA's agency-wide effort to overhaul how it conducts cost-benefit analysis for its pending rules to ensure that this methodology remains heavily biased in favor ...

Environmental Policy

The planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Heading the list of threats is climate change, but other problems persist, including air and water pollution, toxic waste, and the protection of natural resources and wildlife. In recent years, we've been reminded that many of these problems , in their way, magnify the harm from natural disasters.

A Welcome Victory in the D.C. Circuit

Farber | Sep 17, 2019 | Environmental Policy

Trump's Legal Challenges to the California Car Deal

Farber | Sep 09, 2019 | Environmental Policy

Clearing the Air

Farber | Aug 26, 2019 | Environmental Policy

Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline?

Sachs | Aug 14, 2019 | Environmental Policy

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