Section 401 of the Clean Water Act: Is It Time to Update?

Margaret Anne Hill and Frederick M. Lowther

On Wednesday April 18, 2018, from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. (EDT), Blank Rome Partners Margaret Anne (“Peg”) Hill and Frederick M. Lowther will present a live webinar where they will discuss adjustments that might be made to the Clean Water Act to restore the originally-intended cooperation between state and federal authorities, and what remedies might be available in lieu of congressional action.

The federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) has been in existence since 1972. For the states that implemented EPA-sanctioned water quality standards, the CWA (specifically Section 401) gave those states the power to enforce those standards by granting or denying certifications to federally-regulated projects impacting state waters. The concept of state veto power over federally-regulated projects was known as “cooperative federalism.”

By 2005, it became clear that Section 401 rights provided a means for states to delay or frustrate projects on grounds only tangentially related to water quality. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (“EPACT”), Congress responded by providing for direct, expedited review of adverse state action in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Notwithstanding EPACT, several states continued to use Section 401 for purposes broader than originally intended and the direct appellate remedy proved ineffective.

Starting with Islander East in 2007, and culminating recently in Constitution Pipeline, states have effectively blocked a number of federally-approved interstate pipeline projects. The impact of these decisions suggests that it is time to revisit the “cooperative federalism” concept.

For more information about this event or to register, please click here.

FERC Advances the Ball on Electric Storage, Calls for a Huddle on Distributed Energy Resource Aggregation

Stephen C. Zumbrun

In a move that has excited the renewable energy and electric storage industries, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) last month voted to remove barriers to the participation of electric storage resources in the capacity, energy, and ancillary service markets operated by Regional Transmission Organizations (“RTO”) and Independent System Operators (“ISO”). Pursuant to Section 206 of the Federal Power Act, which requires “just and reasonable rates,” FERC amended 18 C.F.R. § 35.28 to require RTOs/ISOs to revise their tariffs to establish market rules that recognize the physical and operational characteristics of electric storage resources and to facilitate their participation in the RTO/ISO markets. In the same order, FERC also punted on a decision for distributed energy resource aggregation reforms and called for a technical conference to further study possible reforms for the RTO/ISO markets. Continue reading “FERC Advances the Ball on Electric Storage, Calls for a Huddle on Distributed Energy Resource Aggregation”

Pipeline Update: Decisions in Pennsylvania and the Fourth Circuit Should Pave Way for Pipeline Development

Frank L. Tamulonis III and Margaret A. Hill

Two recent decisions, one from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and one from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, rejected arguments from pipeline opponents that, if accepted, would have bolstered local efforts to stymie pipeline development. In Orus Ashby Berkley, et al. v. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, landowners challenged Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC’s (“MVP”) eminent domain authority for the construction of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”)-regulated pipeline designed to transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia. See 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 202907 (W.D. Va. Dec. 11, 2017). Landowners launched a challenge against MVP and FERC, arguing that Congress’s delegation of eminent domain authority to FERC and pipeline developers under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) was overly broad and unconstitutional, and that FERC’s standard to determine whether land is being taken for “public use” does not pass muster under the Fifth Amendment. On December 11, 2017, the District Court ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the constitutional arguments, reasoning that the NGA makes clear that any challenges to FERC orders must be first reheard by FERC, and then can only be challenged in a federal court of appeals. Id. The plaintiff landowners appealed that decision, which is still pending. Continue reading “Pipeline Update: Decisions in Pennsylvania and the Fourth Circuit Should Pave Way for Pipeline Development”

SCOTUS Holds that Challenges to the Definition of Waters of the United States Must Be Heard in the U.S. District Courts

Benjamin Stonelake

In a unanimous decision and opinion delivered by Justice Sotomayor on January 22, 2018, in National Association of Manufacturers v. U.S. Department of Defense, the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) held that challenges to the June 29, 2015 regulation defining the term “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) must be filed in the federal district courts. The Court reasoned that the plain text of the judicial review provisions set forth in 33 U.S.C. §1369(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act does not authorize direct challenges to this regulation (the 2015 WOTUS Rule) in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, therefore, such challenges must be filed in the federal district courts. Continue reading “SCOTUS Holds that Challenges to the Definition of Waters of the United States Must Be Heard in the U.S. District Courts”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Improperly Expands the Definition of “Commonwealth” in Article I Section 27 of the Constitution to Include Local Governments

Jeremy A. Mercer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently expanded the definition of “Commonwealth” in the Pennsylvania Constitution to include local governments but without any reasoned support. See Pa. Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commw., 161 A.3d 911, 931 n.23 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF”). In a footnote, which arguably is dicta, the Supreme Court said that the trustee referenced in the “Natural Resources and the Public Estate” provision of Pennsylvania’s Constitution (Article I, Section 27) includes local governments despite the Constitution’s express selection of the “Commonwealth” as the trustee. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Improperly Expands the Definition of “Commonwealth” in Article I Section 27 of the Constitution to Include Local Governments”

Cooling Towers: Not So Cool?

Frederick M. Lowther

Anyone who has been in a tall building looking down on shorter buildings has seen the usual array of mechanical “boxes” with large spinning fans. Those “cooling towers” sit atop tens of thousands of buildings across the country, from hotels to office buildings, hospitals, university and government buildings, and residential towers. Cooling towers also sit adjacent to many industrial facilities, such as petrochemical plants, where cooling by exhaustion of heat is part of the industrial process. More recently, there is the advent of truly enormous data centers, which are the guts of operations of “public cloud” companies, such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle, IBM, etc. In many cases, these data centers rely on water-based cooling towers, which control temperatures for the large spaces housing computers/servers, and which are often adjacent to thousands of people. It is now estimated that there are as many as two million cooling towers operating in the United States. Continue reading “Cooling Towers: Not So Cool?”

The Continued Growth of Drones in the Energy Sector

Sean T. Pribyl

The energy industry continues to see a marked growth in the use of drones as they provide cost efficient and time-saving services. For example, drones are being utilized as a tool to accurately inspect oil and gas pipelines, survey large property sites and power lines, and monitor oil wells. The oil and gas industry is also using drones for inspection and surveillance of drilling rigs in offshore operations. And, drones can also be used to check pipelines to identify pipe failures or detect methane leaks, conduct integrity surveys of power and utility industry cables and towers, or inspect onshore and offshore wind turbine farms. Continue reading “The Continued Growth of Drones in the Energy Sector”