In a far-reaching decision with sweeping implications, a federal district judge in Montana eliminated the Army Corps’ nationwide permit for utility line crossings over waters of the United States. This permit – known as Nationwide Permit 12 – was used to streamline approvals across the country for electrical lines, pipelines, and other utility projects resulting in minor encroachments on wetlands and other waters. Because of this decision’s scope, thousands of projects across the country – including projects in California – may be stalled as they re-think their permitting approach or await further direction from the courts. Even more troubling is the fact that this decision calls into question the legality of over fifty other nationwide permits intended to streamline project approvals, including those issued for housing, industrial, and other development projects Continue reading
Since President Trump took office in 2016, change is the new norm when it comes to environmental law. Within a month of taking office, the President proposed a dramatic narrowing of federal wetland protections under the Clean Water Act, resulting in a regulation that is now being finalized. The Trump Administration also issued an opinion limiting the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, narrowed the requirements for environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act, and rejected principle elements of the Obama Administration’s climate plan as well as the Paris Climate Accord. Now, the Trump Administration has issued numerous revisions to the regulations used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement the Endangered Species Act.
On August 12, 2019, the Administration issued final rules for three separate rulemaking efforts to change certain key elements of the regulations used to implement the ESA. In our view, and contrary to the media firestorm surrounding the new regulations, these changes don’t amount to a “gutting” of the ESA. In fact, these rules don’t change the Endangered Species Act at all. Rather, they modify regulations which implement the ESA and which were adopted under previous administrations. Regulations are subject to change from time to time and, quite often, change with the political winds. Inevitably, what for some will be seen as harsh changes, others will perceive as needed reform. From our perspective as practitioners, the new regulations clarify a few procedural ambiguities and streamline some clunky aspects of the ESA’s regulations that we have been dealing with for years.
The new regulations are quite detailed. But in summary, below are some of the highlights: Continue reading
There are no surprises in the President’s proposal to vastly narrow the definition of wetlands and other waters protected by the federal Clean Water Act. Within a month of taking office in 2017, the President issued an executive order directing EPA and the Corps of Engineers to begin that process.
Nor are there any surprises in the new definition itself. As expected, EPA and the Corps of Engineers propose to replace the Obama-era definition – which was based upon the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision – with a much narrower definition proposed by late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Under the new rule, the Clean Water Act’s protections will extend only to truly navigable rivers and their tributaries, as well as wetlands abutting those rivers or having a direct hydrologic connection. The Clean Water Act will no longer protect millions of acres of wetlands found in different habitat types around the Country, including most of the vernal pools and other seasonal wetlands found throughout California’s rangelands and foothills.
A. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
- Presidential Executive Order 13807 (Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects) (August 15, 2017):
Applies to any project that requires approval by multiple federal agencies, requires an EIS, and has a “reasonable availability” of funding. Requires NEPA reviews to be limited to 2 years, publication of all federal decisions in a single ROD (“One Federal Agency”) and federal authorizations to be issued within 90 days of ROD.
- Interior Secretary Order 3355 (Streamlining National Environmental Policy Act Reviews and Implementation of Executive Order 13807) (August 31, 2017).
Limits environmental impact statements to 150 – 300 pages (the latter for unusually complex projects), excluding appendices, for all EIS documents prepared by DOI. Final environmental impact statements required to be completed within one year from issuance of NOI unless Asst. Sect’y approves 3-month extension. Continue reading
On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor issued an opinion that resets its view of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (the “Act”) and could give developers, renewable energy companies, and other industries regulatory relief and certainty for the inadvertent take of migratory birds. Continue reading
- A new CEQA requirement to evaluate impacts on tribal cultural resources
- New fracking reporting requirements for oil operators
- New wetlands guidelines from the Corps
- A mandatory change to notary acknowledgment forms
- A new CDFW CEQA filing fee schedule
In addition to the endangered California Red-Legged Frog being named as the official State of California Amphibian (AB 2364), here are some other items of note as we move into 2015:
Tribal Cultural Resources: Under AB 52, for projects for which either an EIR notice of preparation or a notice of negative declaration is filed on or after July 1, 2015, potential impacts on “tribal cultural resources” must be evaluated. For more information on AB 52 and other 2014 CEQA legislation and CEQA court decisions, please click here to see Mike Zischke’s post entitled “CEQA Update: 2014 Case Law And Legislative Developments.”
Fracking Reporting: Effective January 1, 2015, oil and gas operators must submit quarterly water reports to the State’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources providing information related to fracking activities, such as the source, volume, quality, and disposition of all injected water, the quality, treatment and disposal method of all produced waters, and the source, quality, and use of all other treated and recycled waters used in their oil and gas field activities. For the Legislative Counsel’s Digest and full text of SB 1281 click here. For DOGGR’s “Notice to Operators” regarding the requirements of SB 1281, click here.
New Wetlands Mitigation Guidelines from the Corps. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has issued a comprehensive new set of guidelines for mitigation to be required under Section 404 wetland fill permits. Click here to review the post of Clark Morrison and Scott Birkey on the scope and implications of the new guidelines.
Notaries: Effective January 1, 2015, Civil Code Section 1189 requires new wording and formatting for notary acknowledgements. County Recorders will not record documents that are not notarized in compliance with the new provisions of Section 1189. Click here to review the amended Section 1189. Continue reading
Sometimes “clarification” requires clarification. That is the case with a recent policy change announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in June 2014 to “clarify” key terms central to the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. The new policy begs the question “How much significance does it take to be significant?”
The ESA is no stranger to controversy, both political and practical. As of November 2, 2014, 487 animals and 728 plants were listed as endangered in the United States. By the time a species is listed, its listing process likely has endured debate and disagreement over whether that species should be listed as endangered, threatened, or not at all. The listing of a species often leads to increased permitting complexity, costs, and delay for projects where that species or its habitat is found on site. Continue reading