US Environmental Protection Agency

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a request for comment asking for “input on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification.” EPA’s request is part of a federal government initiative under Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” which established a federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people. The Executive Order directs federal agencies to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force that will evaluate existing regulations and make recommendations on repeal, replacement and modification.

Pursuant to the Executive Order, the Task Force will identify regulations that:

  1. Eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation;
  2. are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective;
  3. impose costs that exceed benefits;
  4. create a serious inconsistency or otherwise interfere with regulatory reform initiatives and policies;
  5. are inconsistent with the requirements of section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriates Act, 2001 (44 U.S.C. 3516 note), or the guidance issued pursuant to that provision in particular those regulations that rely in whole or in part on data, information, or methods that are not publicly available or that are insufficiently transparent to meet the standard of reproducibility; or
  6. derive from or implement Executive Orders or other Presidential directives that have been subsequently rescinded or substantially modified.

EPA’s request comes on the heels of the Department of Commerce’s request for comments from manufacturers asking what regulations the government could repeal to benefit domestic manufacturing. Commerce received approximately 170 responsive comments, nearly half of which targeted various environmental regulations for amendment or repeal.

EPA offices are conducting various outreach programs designed to engage the public. These include public teleconferences, public meetings and contact with key stakeholders. Outreach efforts will begin on April 24 with a public meeting via teleconference held by the Office of Air and Radiation. Other divisions of EPA, such as the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, Office of Water, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and Office of Land and Emergency Management will hold scheduled outreach sessions through May 9.  Comments are due to EPA by May 15.

The New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) approved an order on March 9 that will shift the state’s mechanism for compensating distributed energy resources from retail rate net metering to value-based compensation. The order is the next step in New York’s broad Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) plan and was praised by environmental groups and solar advocates for both preserving existing net metering (NEM) benefits for residential and small commercial customers and boosting benefits for community solar. New York’s move away from net metering follows a hard-fought compromise in Arizona that will move Arizona away from net metering as well.

The New Value Stack Tariff

The order created a new Value Stack tariff intended to more accurately reflect the value of distributed generation renewable resources. The Value Stack tariff will set forth a mechanism to compensate distributed energy resources based on the value of the products the resources provide: energy, capacity, environmental attributes, and demand reduction and locational system relief. The value of the environmental attributes will be the higher of the latest Tier 1 REC procurement price published by NYSERDA or the Social Cost of Carbon (as calculated by the US Environmental Protection Agency). Eligible projects will be entitled to receive compensation for 25 years from their in-service date. The Value Stack tariff will be available for all technologies and projects that are currently eligible for NEM.

The Transition

All projects interconnected to the grid in New York prior to March 9, 2017, will continue to receive NEM compensation under existing tariffs. Additionally, new wind projects will be eligible to receive existing NEM rates until the existing statutory cap under NY Public Service Law § 66-1 is reached. Projects operating under existing NEM compensation are eligible to opt-in to the Value Stack tariff.

A transitional “Phase One” NEM tariff will be available to residential and small commercial service class customers interconnected before January 1, 2020. The Phase One NEM tariff is identical to the current NEM tariff, except that projects will be compensated for a term of 20-years from their in-service date and will have the ability to carry-over excess credits to subsequent billing and annual periods. Service under the Phase One tariff will be subject to a MW capacity allocation for each utility. Phase One NEM will also be available to certain projects that interconnect or pay 25 percent of interconnection costs by June 7, 2017. This option is available to remote net metered projects (residential and nonresidential farm operations), large on-site projects (non-residential demand-based or mandatory hourly pricing customers), and community distributed generation projects, which is expected to provide a boost to community solar in New York.

What’s Next?

Phase Two of the REV is expected to refine the methodology for calculating the components of the Value Stack compensation. Thursday’s order included compensation for energy storage paired with an eligible resource. Future orders are expected to address stand-alone storage facilities.

In the United States, the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requires all “major sources” of air pollution, such as power plants, refineries and other large industrial facilities, to obtain permits detailing the conditions under which those sources are allowed to operate. Such “Title V” operating permits, as they are commonly known, are typically issued by state environmental agencies but are subject to pre-issuance review by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, EPA is required to object to any proposed permit that it determines is inadequate, and the CAA also contains a public participation backstop to EPA’s oversight: where EPA fails to object to a permit, any member of the public that believes the permit is inadequate can petition EPA to make an objection.

In recent years, environmental organizations have increasingly used the petition process to challenge proposed permits, especially with respect to alleged inadequacies concerning greenhouse gas emissions. By statute, EPA is supposed to respond to such petitions within 60 days. But EPA routinely misses that deadline and now faces a sizeable backlog of pending petitions.

In late August, EPA published a proposed rule, which, if finalized, would create a series of new requirements for the submission and handling of Title V petitions. Most notably, the proposed rule would:

  • Create a new, mandatory, procedure for submitting Title V petitions to EPA;
  • Require each petition to follow a standardized format and contain certain minimum content; and
  • Impose a new requirement on state permitting agencies—a requirement that those agencies prepare written responses to all “significant comments” received from the public during the permit drafting stage.

EPA’s announcement of the proposed rule also includes a summary of EPA’s general approach to handling Title V petitions. The announcement includes, for example, a short summary of prior EPA applications of the CAA’s Title V provisions, as well as a list of “recommended practices” for state permitting agencies to follow when preparing proposed permits.

EPA is soliciting comments on its proposed rule. Comments must be received on or before October 24, 2016.

On July 1, 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an interim final rule that modifies statutory civil monetary penalty amounts for statutes administered by the agency. EPA’s interim final rule, which becomes effective on August 1, 2016, implements requirements of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (the 2015 Act) and, according to EPA, is designed to increase EPA’s statutory civil monetary penalties to reflect inflation – significantly, in some cases – and to ensure civil penalties maintain their deterrent effects. EPA has stated that its adjusted civil penalty amounts will not necessarily affect the process it uses to assess penalties or the amounts it will ultimately assess, but EPA’s adjusted statutory penalty amounts could result in significant penalties in some enforcement cases. In some cases, EPA now has authority to impose penalties of hundreds of thousands of dollars per day per violation.

Since 1990, the EPA, like other federal agencies, has been required to review and, as appropriate, to revise its statutory monetary penalty amounts every four years to account for inflation. In practice, however, certain agencies did not follow this quadrennial requirement. The 2015 Act provides that, beginning on January 15, 2017, federal agencies, including the EPA, will be required to provide for annual cost-of-living adjustments to their statutory penalty amounts to reflect inflation.

In the interim, however, the 2015 Act requires agencies to provide for initial “catch-up” cost-of-living adjustments for civil penalty amounts through their interim final rulemakings. The “catch-up” amounts may not, by statute, exceed 150 percent of the penalty amounts in effect on November 2, 2015.

Consistent with the 2015 Act and the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) February 24, 2016 guidance, EPA calculated “catch-up” amounts for over 66 statutory penalties and announced the adjusted penalties in Table 2 of the interim final rule. EPA’s new, adjusted statutory civil penalty amounts vary by penalty. For example, the interim final rule increases the previous maximum $37,500 per-day penalty for violating requirements of implementation plans or permits for affected sources, major emitting facilities, or major stationary sources under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to a maximum of $93,750 per day per violation. Similarly, the interim final rule increases EPA’s civil monetary penalty under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for oil or hazardous substance discharges – previously set at a maximum of $37,500 per day per violation – to $44,539 per day per violation.

The ranges of statutory civil penalties under Table 2 of the interim final rule are, by statute:

EPA-Administered Statute Range of Statutory Civil Penalties for Violations that Occurred After November 2, 2015 and Assessed on or After August 1, 2016
Clean Air Act $8,908 – $356,312
Clean Water Act $1,782 – $257,848
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act $53,907 – $161,721
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act $14,023 – $93,750
Safe Drinking Water Act $9,375 – $1,311,850
Toxic Substances Control Act $8,908 – $37,500

EPA can assess its adjusted penalty amounts on or after August 1, 2016 for statutory violations that occurred after November 2, 2015; parties should consult Table 2 of the interim final rule for guidance on penalty amounts for such violations. However, for statutory violations that occurred on or before November 2, 2015, or for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015 but for which EPA assesses penalties before August 1, 2016, parties should continue to consult EPA’s existing civil penalty amounts, located in Table 1 of 40 C.F.R. § 19.4.

Late in the day on Tuesday, February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed, for at least a year and possibly longer, the implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) widely-publicized regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-, oil- and gas-fired power plants.  The stay means that the CPP’s requirements and deadlines are on hold, at least until resolution of the pending legal challenges to the CPP.  But what are the broader implications of the Court’s decision?

First, the stay decision bodes poorly for the ultimate fate of the CPP, even though the Supreme Court did not opine as to the CPP’s legality.  The stay decision signals, at a minimum, that a majority of the Supreme Court is sympathetic to the challengers’ claims that the CPP is unlawful.  Indeed, it signals more than that—a distrust of EPA’s assertions about the minimal burdens imposed by the CPP.  That said, the CPP may yet survive judicial review and, even if it does not survive, EPA may be able to promulgate a replacement regulation that achieves similar results, although such a replacement would surely take several years to develop.

Second, environmentally, the stay is unlikely to have any immediate effect on emissions levels, primarily because the CPP itself does not require any immediate emissions reductions.  But that does not mean the stay has no environmental consequences.  The stay fosters uncertainty about the fate of the CPP, and one potential consequence of that uncertainty is that EPA will feel compelled to devote additional resources to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from other sources, especially the oil and gas sector.

The Obama administration has limited time to pursue such alternatives, but the next administration, if it shares President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change, may focus much more intensively on addressing the carbon content of fuels, to make up for the delays and uncertainties created by the CPP stay decision.

The stay also raises questions about the fate of the recently secured Paris agreement, since some parties to that agreement may now be wondering whether the US is capable of meeting its commitment to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.  If other countries doubt the reliability of the US commitment, they may be less bold about seeking emissions reductions themselves.  Indeed, it is precisely such doubts that may drive EPA to pursue more oil and gas regulations.

Finally, lurking in the Supreme Court’s action may be a deeper signal about the fate of the Chevron doctrine, a topic that should be of interest to all entities subject to regulation in the United States, not just to those subject to the Clean Air Act.  A recurring theme in the legal challenges to the CPP is that the CPP raises questions of such extreme economic and political significance that EPA is not entitled to deference as to how those questions should be resolved.  It is not clear what role that theme played in the Supreme Court’s stay decision—because the Court’s order does not explain the Court’s reasoning—but it is striking that the Court took the rare and generally unexpected step of staying the implementation of an agency regulation even before any lower court had ruled on the legality of that regulation.  If nothing else, the stay decision confirms that the Clean Air Act remains a central, if not the central, battleground in questions over the level of deference that courts owe to administrative agencies.