EPA Initiates Reviews of Three Clean Air Act Regulations, Following President Trump’s “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” Executive Order

Trump EPA Clean Air ActA week after President Trump signed an Executive Order directing agency review of various energy-related regulations (see March 28, 2017, B&D alert here), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is initiating review of three such regulations under Clean Air Act.  The announcements were published on the Federal Register on April 4, 2017.

The three regulations to be reviewed by EPA are the Clean Power Plan limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing utilities; the Clean Air Act section 111(b) new source performance standard (NSPS) limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new electric generating units (the companion “New Source Rule” to the Clean Power Plan); and the 111(b) NSPS limiting methane and VOC emissions from new oil and gas operations.  President Trump in his Executive Order specifically directed EPA to review these three regulations and, if appropriate, “suspend, revise, or rescind” them.

In all three announcements, EPA stated that it has “well-grounded” legal authority to revisit past regulations in the context of administrative change and policy reevaluation. EPA also indicated that any potential suspension, revision, or rescission of the subject regulations would be implemented through a rulemaking process that is transparent, follows the appropriate procedures, employs sound science, and is consistent with the law and the Executive Order.

EPA’s announcements show that the Agency’s leadership intends to follow the President’s directive. That regulatory path forward is complicated by ongoing litigation on the existing rules, particularly on the Clean Power Plan, and subsequent judicial developments may constrain EPA’s options.  Stakeholders should closely monitor EPA’s progress in reviewing these rules and participate in any future rulemakings to build a robust administrative record.

© 2017 Beveridge & Diamond PC

Ohio v. Sierra Club: The Integrity of the Clean Air Act

EPAYesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States announced it will not grant Certiorari in Ohio v. Sierra Club, et al. In this case, the Sixth Circuit found an area must adopt required pollution-control measures before the EPA can designate it as having satisfied the law’s health-based pollution standards.

In 1997, the EPA created the National Ambient Air Quality Standards of fine particulate matter in the air.  When the EPA created these standards, regions were designated as having met, or not met the air quality standards.  In order to meet the standards, states were required to adopt “reasonable measures and technologies” to reduce the pollution in the problematic areas.  In 2011, the EPA deemed Ohio to have met the appropriate standards because the air quality had improved. Ohio, however, had never created a pollution regulatory plan as the Clean Air Act required. In response, the Sierra Club filed suit alleging the EPA acted illegally by designated the areas as having met air quality standards.

Creating a pollution regulatory plan is crucial, according to Sanjay Narayan, the managing attorney for the Sierra Club on the case.  Before 1990, the Clean Air Act had no requirement that states produce an implementation plan.  According to Narayan, the expectation was “we [the EPA] don’t care how you get there, we aren’t going to tell you how to get there, we’re just going to check in at the deadline and expect you to have made it. And what happened was that the vast majority of the states did not meet the deadline.”

Narayan describes the implementation plan as “a show your math” requirement. This has been very useful in helping states create lasting change in their air quality–by creating a regulatory framework that shows how they can reduce air pollution, the states are more likely to meet their deadline.  Narayan points out “It’s also useful for other areas to know what worked and what successful areas did.  Here’s what turned out to be cost effective, that kind of record is tremendously useful as we move forward on what was meant to be a nation-wide campaign for healthy air for the public.”

In  Ohio v. Sierra Club, there are a few details to consider.  Pollution decreased, and that’s the goal.  However, it might not be that simple.  In the years preceding Ohio’s drop in air pollution, the economy crashed.  Narayan draws comparisons to the Beijing Olympics, saying, “When people aren’t running their [industrial] plants for economic reasons, the air cleans up a little bit.  But it turns around quickly once you turn the plants back on.”  However, Ohio did meet the standard, and according to Narayan, to comply with the Clean Air Act they’d simply need to go back and show their work.  He says, “They did meet the standard, and they say they have all the controls they need in place.  There is a procedural step that Ohio hasn’t taken, and it shouldn’t be hard for Ohio to take it.”

The Sixth Circuit decision that currently stands requires Ohio to take those regulatory steps. In the current case, the Sixth Circuit agreed that the entire portion of the Clean Air Act must be followed, and that it wasn’t enough for Ohio to have simply met the standards.  Ohio has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Narayan says, “It’s about the integrity of the clean air act.”  These requirements are crucial in ensuring the air gets cleaned up in a timely manner.  Narayan says, Decades of experience has shown us that without these requirements, states miss deadlines, air pollution lasts for much longer than it should and the public really suffers.  The pollution sends kids to the hospital with asthma, it creates respiratory disease in the elderly-delay is a disaster for public health.”

Copyright ©2016 National Law Forum, LLC

EPA Proposal Acknowledges Areas With Dangerous Air Pollution, But Leaves Some Out and Has Failed to Step in When States Haven’t Protected Residents

EPATwo weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency published proposals to designate 12 areas of the country—including Alton and Marion, Illinois; Jefferson and Posey, Indiana; DeSoto Parish, Louisiana; Anne Arundel and Baltimore, Maryland; St. Clair, Michigan; Franklin, Missouri; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Freestone, Rusk, and Titus, Texas—as “nonattainment” for the dangerous pollutant sulfur dioxide, or SO2.  While EPA won’t finalize the designations until July, what needs to happen next is for the agency to recognize that there are far more than 12 areas across the United States that are in need of having their air cleaned up.

But to explain the importance of all this, we need to back up a bit.  One of the most powerful tools under the Clean Air Act for protecting the air we breathe is something called an “ambient air quality standard.”  The way it works is this: EPA follows the science and determines the level for certain pollutants above which it’s unsafe for human health, and then issues standards for those pollutants.  For SO2 pollution, it’s 75 parts per billion.  EPA then determines what parts of the country have safe air quality, and what parts have air quality worse than the standard.  These latter areas are called “nonattainment,” and the Clean Air Act imposes strict requirements on states to fix their air quality problems, and directs EPA to step in and handle things if states don’t shoulder their responsibility.

Although EPA set the SO2 standard in 2010, since then, implementation has been stymied.  EPA hasn’t designated many areas, and even with the areas it has already designated as nonattainment, states have almost universally failed to develop the required plans to reduce SO2 pollution and EPA has failed to step in solve the problem expeditiously–including in Detroit, Michigan.  The consequence is that hundreds of thousands of residents are regularly breathing levels of pollution the agency knows causes severe public health impacts, particularly on children and the elderly.

SO2 is a nasty pollutant.  Exposure to even low concentrations for even short durations (as little as five minutes) can trigger asthma attacks and respiratory distress. In fact, studies show correlations between short-term exposure and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk populations including children, the elderly, and asthmatics.  In places like Detroit, where everybody—EPA, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the polluters themselves—know that the air is unsafe, the asthma rates are high, the public is suffering, but state and EPA action is both missing and overdue.

We know how to fix this problem. Almost all SO2 pollution comes from a tiny handful of sources: coal-fired power plants.

sierra20clubThat means that restoring clean air is as simple as modeling the pollution from the few hundred remaining coal plants in the country, and ensuring that they have emission limits in place that protect our air and our communities.

But why use modeling instead of air monitors to assess the safety of the air we breathe?  Two reasons: First, when almost all the pollution comes from just a few large sources, modeling is actually much faster, cheaper, and more accurate than setting up a monitoring network and waiting years for the data to come in.  EPA has carefully developed modeling software for this purpose, and has subjected it to more rigorous field testing than any other modeling tool it has ever created.

Second, the sad fact is that the nation’s air monitoring network for SO2 pollution is woefully inadequate.  During the Reagan administration, the U.S. had roughly 1,500 SO2 pollution monitors, which sounds like a lot, until you realize just how big a country the U.S. is—there are more than 3,000 counties in the U.S.  But since then, the number has dropped even further, to less than 450 (in a country spanning 3.8 million square miles!).  And none of them are where they need to be to keep an eye on peak concentrations of SO2 pollution: they are often miles away from large polluting sources or are in places like offshore islands, where the air they measure is a lot cleaner than the air we actually breathe.

This is what is so critical about EPA’s proposals: the new designations would be based on modeling.

Of course, not everybody is likely to be happy about this.  Plenty of states and industry submitted modeling to EPA (rather suspiciously, industry modeling rather universally shows impacts just below the limit), but oftentimes such analysis was skewed towards hiding the true impacts of the pollution.  In some cases, states submitted modeling not of what power plants actually emitted, but what the state wished they had emitted. In others, states or industry modelers used unapproved software add-ons that cripple the model and unsurprisingly yield results purporting air quality to be much better than it actually is.  This is a bit like calculating how much you’d have in your savings account if you’d been stashing away a lot more money than you actually had, and pretending the bank gave you a much better interest rate than it actually did.  It might be a fun exercise, but it has little to do with reality.

Nor did EPA go as far as it should.  While EPA in this round of proposed designations was looking at just 66 areas total, many more than the 12 it identified as having bad air should be considered as “nonattainment” for SO2 pollution.  Places like Gibson County in Indiana, and additional parts of Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio, and regions in Texas all have unsafe air quality because of coal plants, and EPA should designate them in nonattainment as well.

The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem, so EPA should not shy away from calling a spade a spade and finalizing nonattainment designations for these areas. And, where problems have already been identified–such as in Detroit–EPA should stop sitting on its hands and move expeditiously to protect the breathing public.

Article By Zack Fabish of Sierra Club

Report on State Preparedness to Implement EPA Clean Power Plan

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States are well positioned to implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, according to a new study conducted by Analysis Group Senior Advisor Susan Tierney and Vice Presidents Paul Hibbard and Andrea Okie. The report, “EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs & Increasing Benefits to Consumers,”is based on a careful analysis of states that already have experience regulating carbon pollution. It finds that those states’ economies have seen net increases in economic output and jobs. “Several states have already put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, and their economies are doing fine. The bottom line: the economy can handle – and actually benefit from – these rules,” said Dr. Tierney.

The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would regulate carbon emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants using EPA’s existing authority under the Clean Air Act. The draft rules, due to be finalized next year, allow a variety of market-based and other approaches states can choose from to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The Analysis Group team analyzed the carbon-control rules already in place in several states to see what insights they might hold for the success of the national rule. The report was based on states’ existing track records, rather than projecting costs and benefits that might be expected under the Clean Power Plan. The report, funded by the Energy Foundation and the Merck Family Fund, was released at the summer conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) in Dallas, Texas.

Read the report

 
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The Supreme Court’s Greenhouse Gas Permitting Decision – What Does It Mean?

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The U.S. Supreme Court today partly upheld and partly rejected the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s federal Clean Air Act permitting regulations governing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources.  The decision is mostly a victory for EPA, and its narrow scope means that it will almost certainly not disrupt, let alone invalidate, EPA’s ongoing Section 111(d) rulemaking to set GHG emission limits for existing power plants.  At the same time, the decision does not necessarily mean that EPA’s 111(d) proposal is free from legal challenge.  That is because the decision does not address 111(d).

Today’s decision concerns the Clean Air Act’s two stationary source permitting programs – the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) program and the Title V program.  In 2010, EPA announced that it was including GHG emissions within the scope of both programs.  Various states and industry groups challenged that announcement, and today, the Supreme Court partly agreed and partly disagreed with the challengers.

First, five justices (Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas) held that a source’s GHG emissions, standing alone, cannot trigger the obligation to undergo PSD and Title V permitting.  That part of the decision is a loss for EPA.  But the second part of the decision is a victory for the agency.  Seven justices (Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Beyer, Sotomayor and Kagan) held that EPA canrequire sources that are subject to PSD “anyway,” because they emit other types of pollutants in significantly large quantities, to control their GHG emissions.  In sum, GHG emissions cannot trigger the obligation to undergo PSD permitting, but EPA can use the PSD permitting process to impose source-specific GHG emission limits on facilities that trigger the process for other reasons.

The decision does not address EPA’s authority to impose substantive limits on GHG emissions using other statutory provisions such as Clean Air Act Section 111(d).

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D.C. Circuit Court Vacates EPA’s Cross-State Emissions Rule

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In a 2-1 decision issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in EME Homer City Generation, L.P v. EPA, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its statutory authority in adopting the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR or Transport Rule).  The D.C. Circuit found that EPA’s Transport Rule exceeded the agency’s authority on 2 separate grounds, both of which violated the Clean Air Act and required that the Rule be vacated.

Led by Texas, various States, local governments, industry groups and labor organizations had challenged the Rule, which was a significant air policy regulation of the Obama administration.  Acknowledging the complexity of the facts,  Judge Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the majority, noted that “the legal principles that govern this case are straightforward : Absent a claim of constitutional authority (and there is none here), executive agencies may exercise only the authority conferred by statute, and agencies may not transgress statutory limits on that authority.” The Court went on to note that its decision should not be viewed as a comment on the Rule’s wisdom or underlying merits but rather “to ensure that the agency stays within the boundaries Congress has set.”

©2012 Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Federal Authorities Obtain First-Ever Criminal Conviction Regarding Fraudulent Generation of Renewable Fuel Credits

An article by Susan M. Cooke and Bethany K. Hatef of McDermott Will & Emery regarding Renewal Fuel Credits appeared in The National Law Review:

 

 

On June 25, 2012, a federal jury in Maryland found the owner of a fraudulent clean energy production company guilty of wire fraud, money laundering and violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Rodney Hailey, the owner of Clean Green Fuels, LLC, was convicted of eight counts of wire fraud, 32 counts of money laundering and two counts of CAA violations in connection with his sale of fraudulent biodiesel renewable fuel credits. Mr. Hailey’s sentencing is scheduled for October 11, 2012. He faces imprisonment of up to 20 years for each wire fraud conviction; up to 10 years for each money laundering conviction; and up to two years for each CAA violation. While Mr. Hailey’s case marks the first criminal prosecution concerning the fraudulent generation of such renewable fuel credits, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently investigating other cases where similar enforcement action may be taken.

As required by the Renewable Fuel Standard Program, EPA each year establishes the minimum volume of renewable fuel (Renewable Volume Obligation) to be produced or imported by refiners, importers, and most blenders of nonrenewable transportation fuel (obligated parties). Under EPA’s regulations which are set forth at 40 C.F.R. Part 80, Subparts K and M, a Renewable Identification Number (RIN) is assigned to each volume of renewable fuel that is produced, and the RIN is registered with EPA. After the associated fuel is obtained by an obligated party or blended into motor vehicle fuel, the RIN can be traded as a renewable fuel credit, either bilaterally or in private organized markets, and all transfers must be tracked on a system established by EPA and used to meet an obligated party’s Renewable Volume Obligation.

From March 2009 to December 2010, Clean Green Fuels, sold more than 32 million fraudulent RINs representing over 23 million gallons of renewable biodiesel fuel. In 2010, EPA received a complaint that Mr. Hailey’s company was selling fraudulent RINs. This sparked an investigation by EPA’s Air Enforcement Division in July 2010, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland filed charges against Mr. Hailey in October 2011 with respect to his fraudulent sale of RINs and his registration of Clean Green Fuels with EPA as a biodiesel producer when that company never produced any fuel.

In addition to its criminal prosecution of Mr. Hailey, EPA issued Notices of Violation to gasoline and diesel refiners, blenders, and importers that utilized Clean Green Fuels RINs to demonstrate compliance with their Renewable Fuel Obligations. EPA maintains that entities submitting false RINs for compliance purposes are subject to enforcement, regardless of whether they knew or had reason to know that the RINs were invalid. During April 2012, EPA settled with 28 of those parties, requiring them to replace the fraudulent RINs with valid RINs and to pay civil penalties.

© 2012 McDermott Will & Emery