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Energy and Environment Monitor

Water Quality and Permitting

Fourth Circuit Follows Lead of Sixth Circuit: Citizen Groups Cannot Use SMCRA's Citizen Suit to Sue for Discharges Subject to Clean Water Act "Permit Shield"

The 4th Circuit has followed the 6th Circuit’s lead in extending the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) “permit shield” to citizen suits filed under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (“SMCRA”). In a case decided March 30th, the 4th Circuit said “we agree with the district court - and thus the [6th] Circuit in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard, LLC, 781 F. 3d 281, 291-92(6th Cir. 2015) - that…

West Virginia Supreme Court Slams Class Certification Order from Trial Court Judge Who Stood to Benefit from the Class Action

The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that a Circuit Court judge should not have decided whether to “certify” a class action in which he was a potential class member. In addition, the Court has vacated the certification order of the Circuit Court as inadequately supported. See State ex rel. Municipal Water Works v Swope, No. 19-0404 (W.Va. Sup. Ct. Oct. 18, 2019).

 

In March 2019, a group of…

The Beginning of the End

The U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers published the repeal of the 2015 “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule in the October 22 Federal Register. With this rulemaking, the agencies are restoring the 1986 rule that defined “waters of the United States” before the 2015 revision. The agencies’ announcement also marks the beginning of the end to one of the most contentious, protracted and…

Court Rejects Claims that Valley Fill Discharges are Unpermitted Discharges: Relies on Broad Application of “Permit Shield”

A federal court in Virginia has ruled in favor of a coal operator in a citizen suit filed under the Clean Water Act, the Surface Mining Act and RCRA. See Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (“SAMS”) v. Red River Coal Company, Inc., No. 2:17-cv-00028 (W.D. Va. Sept. 24, 2019). There, Red River has held a combined NPDES/SMCRA permit (“Permit”) since 1992 for a surface mining operation.  As part…

Sierra Club Targets Multiple Companies Under Clean Water Act

The Sierra Club and four other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) announced on June 4, 2019 that they are sending Notices of Intent to Sue (NOIs) nine companies in West Virginia and Pennsylvania in federal court for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).  The notices allege that a total of fifteen facilities owned by the…

EPA Denies Any Jurisdiction over Groundwater in New Interpretative Rule

The U.S. EPA issued an interpretative rule on April 12 which establishes some long-sought clarity to the question of whether a discharge of pollutants into groundwater is subject to its regulation and permitting. The agency concluded that such discharges, even when the pollutants reach navigable waters regulated under the Clean Water Act, are not subject to its permitting authority under §402 of…

A Christmas Present for All Who Use the Land

          The Environmental Protection Agency and Corps of Engineers delivered their long-awaited definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) on December 11.  The pre-publication version of the rule released on that day marks the beginning of the end of one the most contentious issues in the history of American environmental law.  The new definition will “encompass relatively permanent flowing and…

The Promise and Perils of Clean Water Act Litigation

            On November 14th, a federal district court dismissed a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the owners of the Vermillion power plant, a retired coal-fired facility on the banks of the Middle Fork in Vermillion County, Illinois.  Metals from coal ash were leaching from three unlined ponds into groundwater that flows to the Middle Fork, which happens to be both a federally and state…

DO I HAVE A POINT SOURCE?

The Answer Depends on the Jurisdiction

 

Let’s say you have an unlined pond.  It doesn’t directly discharge to any river or stream and, as a result, you’ve never applied for an NPDES permit.  But, let’s assume that pollutants in the pond percolate into groundwater.  And let’s further assume that these pollutants eventually make their way, via groundwater, to a river or stream. 

 

Image result for fly ash pond

 

Does your pond…

Federal District Court Enjoins WOTUS Rule in Three More States

          Readers may recall that last month, August 23, 2018, we reported that a federal district court in South Carolina enjoined an EPA rule suspending the 2015 “waters of the United States rule”. EPA had proposed to suspend the 2015 rule and reinstate the previous 1982 regulation defining what constitutes a water of the United States. EPA did so in part to provide uniformity to the definition applied…

The Murky "Waters of the United States" Just Got Muddier

          When I wake up and listen to National Public Radio report about a federal district court’s injunction of an EPA regulation, I conclude that someone besides a lawyer believes the decision is important.  What was decided by the federal district court in Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday, August 16 was significant, but for a reason not reported.

          Defining the “waters of the United States”…

 

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