Dec. 2, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Precisely what the Clean Water Act requires of point sources that discharge to already-polluted waterways has long been a point of confusion. Now, according to Inside EPA, EPA may revise the rules it applies to new permits on impaired waterways. A rulemaking seems far from certain at this point — the story quotes an EPA spokesperson as saying the agency is “considering the possibility” — but if EPA does launch one it should make sure that any regulatory revisions serve the Clean Water Act’s goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.

It may seem odd that new permits are ever allowed on impaired waters. The Clean Water Act requires that states set water quality standards for the waters within their borders. All NPDES permits (the permits issued for point source discharges by EPA or state …

Nov. 12, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This posting is reprinted, by permission from Legal Planet.

The Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday announced some very good news — the brown pelican will soon be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. This enormous fish-eating bird has been protected since 1970, when it was included on the very first list of US endangered species under a predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act. Its population rebounded after DDT was banned in 1972. By 1985, the pelican had recovered enough to justify delisting along the Atlantic coast. Now the Service has determined that populations are also stable off the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, such that the species as a whole no longer needs the protection of the ESA. Lest that judgment be wrong, the Act requires that the Service monitor the pelican’s status for at least five years after delisting.

The success of the …

Oct. 14, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This item cross-posted from Legal Planet.

On Friday, the New York Times carried a story about Tim DeChristopher, the economics student in Utah who bid on federal oil and gas leases at an auction last December as a form of protest against global warming. DeChristopher was the winning bidder on 14 parcels, but admits that he never had either the intent or the ability to pay the $1.7 million he bid. He is now facing criminal charges of interfering with an auction and making false statements on a bidding form. DeChristopher’s attorney has argued that he should be allowed to present a necessity defense to a jury. In a hearing last month, the judge was unpersuaded, but did give the defense time to submit a written brief in support of its claim.

As the Times reports, the necessity defense is a long shot in a …

Oct. 2, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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(Cross-posted by permission from LegalPlanet)

EPA finished September with a flourish. In addition to proposing New Source Review rules for greenhouse gas emissions and pushing for TSCA reform, the agency took the next step toward a crack-down on mountaintop removal. On September 11, EPA announced preliminary plans to review all 79 pending permit applications. This week, after considering public comment, it finalized that list, concluding that indeed all 79 require further review, based on concerns that the projects could more fully avoid or minimize impacts on aquatic resources; that they threaten to violate water quality standards; that their cumulative impacts have not been fully assessed; and that proposed mitigation efforts may not be effective.

Under the coordinated review procedures announced by EPA and the Corps in June, the next step is for the issuing Corps district and the appropriate regional office of EPA to review the permit …

Sept. 23, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

Federal Judge Donald Molloy in Montana has ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to restore grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area to the list of endangered and threatened species. Judge Molloy refused to allow FWS to delist the grizzly on the basis of unsupported wishful thinking about the bear’s future.

Grizzly bears once roamed across most of the North American west, but the population in Yellowstone is one of the few remaining remnants in the lower 48. The grizzly was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, when there were about 1000 bears in the continental US, with an estimated 136 to 312 of those in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

In 2007, with the Yellowstone grizzly population up to about 500, FWS removed it from the protected list. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition Challenged that decision. This week …

Sept. 22, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

In June, President Obama created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, and directed it to make recommendations for a national ocean policy.  The Task Force got right to work.  Now, after convening two dozen expert roundtables, inviting public comment, and holding the first of six public sessions, the Task Force has issued an Interim Report recommending key elements of a national policy.

The Interim Report is very encouraging.  If the Task Force follows this blueprint in fleshing out a national policy, and if it can bring the executive and legislative branches along, the result will be a clear national policy of putting environmental sustainability first, and an effective institutional framework for putting that policy into practice. The Interim report correctly identifies the need for “a strong, clear, overarching policy mandate” and “high-level direction and policy guidance from a clearly designated and …

Sept. 11, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

EPA today announced that it would review 79 pending applications for Clean Water Act section 404 permits for surface coal mining projects in Appalachia (hat tip: Coal Tattoo). This review is good news, and an indication that EPA may be developing a backbone with respect to the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the region’s waterways. It remains to be seen how firm that spine will be, that is, how much EPA will demand in the way of changes before it allows the projects to go ahead.

EPA’s announcement suggests a new level of resolve on its part because the review will cover all the remaining applications that were pending before March 31, 2009. In June, in connection with the administration’s issuance of a new coordinated policy on mountaintop removal mining, EPA and the Corps announced …

Sept. 3, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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This item cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

We had a flurry of posts on geoengineering a while back (see here, here, here, and here). If you want to learn more about geoengineering, a great resource is this report, just issued by the Royal Society. It clearly explains the background, the approaches being proposed (which divide broadly into technologies for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and technologies for reducing the input of solar radiation), and the risks associated with those approaches. The key conclusions include: (1) geoengineering is not a substitute for reducing GHG emissions; (2) more research should be done on geoengineering and dealing with its risks, in case “it becomes necessary to reduce the rate of warming this century”: (3) because of the risks, “Solar Radiation Management methods should not be applied unless there is a need to rapidly limit or reduce global average …

Aug. 26, 2009 by Holly Doremus
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Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet.

As reported in the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has petitioned EPA to hold a trial-type hearing before finalizing its proposed finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. (We blogged about the proposed endangerment finding here.)

The main argument in the petition is that a formal hearing is required to effectuate the administration’s stated commitment to scientific integrity and transparency. Don’t be fooled. Scientific integrity is nowhere near the top of the Chamber’s wish list. Chamber officials have made that clear by telling the L.A. Times that the proceeding they have in mind would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.” Scopes was convicted in 1925 of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in the public schools. His trial was a media circus …

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