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.

Mountain Valley Pipeline: West Virginia Cements the Need for FERC and Congressional Action to Curb State Overreach on FERC Jurisdictional Pipelines

Michael L. Krancer, Frederick M. Lowther, and Margaret Anne Hill

As we have noted in our prior blog posts on the Constitution Pipeline and Millennium Valley Lateral projects, §401 of the Federal Clean Water Act has become a focal point in the growing efforts by States to exercise dominant authority over FERC jurisdictional pipelines. This time, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (“WVDEP”) has taken the unprecedented step of actually revoking a §401 certification it had granted in March 2017 and then reaffirmed in May. This action by WVDEP may be the final straw in State authority to review FERC jurisdictional pipelines as FERC and the Congress will be energized to react to the oversteps by New York in Millennium and now West Virginia in Mountain Valley. Continue reading “Mountain Valley Pipeline: West Virginia Cements the Need for FERC and Congressional Action to Curb State Overreach on FERC Jurisdictional Pipelines”

ERA Revisited: Solutions For Navigating An Uncertain Legal Landscape

Margaret Anne Hill, Michael L. Krancer, Frank L. Tamulonis III, and Stephen C. Zumbrun

On June 20, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF) v. Commonwealth, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 1393 (Pa. June 20), in connection with the so-called Environmental Rights Amendment or ERA (Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution). Suffice it to say, the opinion has reopened the debate as to the meaning of the ERA, and more importantly, how the ERA is implemented as a practical and legal matter. In brief, the court ruled that amendments to the state’s fiscal code (which sought to address budgetary shortfalls by redirecting money from a fund containing rents and royalties from oil and gas leases on commonwealth land to the general fund) violated the ERA. While the facts before the court were narrowly drawn, the court used the opportunity to revisit the decades old “test” applied in evaluating ERA claims, an issue it first addressed in its 2013 plurality opinion in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013). It abruptly rejected the well-established Payne v. Kassab test and roughly 45 years of ERA-related case law, thereby placing the ERA, and industry, back into legal limbo. Despite some legal uncertainty, this opinion should not be interpreted as a major stumbling block to key energy and infrastructure projects.

Continue reading “ERA Revisited: Solutions For Navigating An Uncertain Legal Landscape”

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Vacates EPA’s Stay of Compliance Deadlines of Methane Rule

Amy L. Barrette

On July 3, 2017, in a 2-1 opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia Circuit granted a petition by several environmental organizations that sought to vacate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) decision to stay the methane rule. In vacating the EPA’s stay, the Court concluded that the EPA lacked authority under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) to stay the rule. Continue reading “United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Vacates EPA’s Stay of Compliance Deadlines of Methane Rule”