The Obama administration’s “Clean Water Rule” was designed to control pollution in approximately 60% of the country’s bodies of water. The Rule primarily extended current federal regulations to smaller bodies of water, requiring that pollution of rivers and wetlands be held to the same environmental penalties as larger bodies of water. However, the Trump administration has suspended enforcement of the regulation for two years. During that time, they will re-consider the definition of “waters of the United States.” The Trump administration intends to release a new version this year.
In early January of this year, the House Committee on Armed Services granted an extension to a bill that would increase border security. An unlikely opponent of this bill is the environmental lobby, since the bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive the requirements of some of the most important environmental protection statutes. These statutes have been the basis for almost all the citizen enforcement in the environmental arena; they work to maintain protections for 73 different areas along the border, along with numerous endangered species.
Environmental and tribal groups have historically taken important roles in implementing and enforcing regulations to protect the environment. In a recent action, environmental and tribal groups took on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in an attempt to quash BLM’s elimination of a rule regulating the chemicals used in fracking. Although the final rule was originally officially published and implemented in 2015, it never went into full effect due to major challenges brought by the oil and gas industry. However, the Trump administration recently repealed the rule in its entirety, prompting a lawsuit arguing that the BLM is required to promulgate regulations as part of its mission.
The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) recently issued a guidance memorandum withdrawing the decades-old “once in, always in” policy. The policy prohibited facilities once considered to be major sources of emissions of hazardous air pollutants to be later reclassified. These facilities are always subject to the class Maximum Achievable Control Technology (“MACT”) standards, regardless of any newly implemented processes or controls that reduce emissions.
However, the EPA found that the policy was established upon an incorrect interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Facilities may now be reclassified as “area sources” if their emissions fall below the threshold and will be subject to less strict standards.
A government agency created in response to the 2011 BP oil spill is proposing changes to its rules surrounding offshore drilling. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) was established to replace the former Minerals Management Service (MMS) agency in response to its perceived conflict of interest and poor regulatory oversight. Since 2011, the BSEE focused exclusively on safety. Now it seems its changing its tune to promote more offshore oil and gas drilling.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”), a federal agency, has recently moved to issue permits allowing hunters to bring back their trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe into the United States. Trophy hunting is the classified as legal shooting of animals under official government license for sport or enjoyment. Typically, as a reward and/or prize, the hunter gets to take home the “trophy”—the animal carcass or its remains. However, not all species can be hunted and there are restrictions on where and when the hunting can happen, in addition to limitations on the weapons that can be used for the kill.
After an executive order for review of designations under the Antiquities Act, the Department of Interior to review 27 different national monuments, a leaked internal memo revealed a plan to reduce the size of four national monuments. One of the reductions, recommended by Secretary Zinke, was the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. Senator Hatch of Utah since confirmed the whispers; in a conversation with Senator Hatch, President Trump revealed his plans to downsize multiple monuments in Utah, including Bears Ears. This action has raised questions about whether a president, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, is allowed to shrink national monuments.
In late June 2017, the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officially announced that after 42 years, the population of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area could be delisted as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The bears in areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park would now be under state control, a move which has been met with great resistance from environmentalists and some Native American tribes in the region. On August 30, 2017, EarthJustice filed a lawsuit alleging FWS failed to rationally address threats to grizzly bears, including consideration of the lower-48 population as a whole, and therefore violating the Endangered Species Act delisting procedures.
As summer turns to fall, leaves begin to change, and farmers in the Midwest start the process of harvesting their crops. Farmers are hard-working, environmentally conscious, planners, who consider how their planting, fertilizer, and equipment effect the environment that their livelihood depends on. They do all of this while still attempting to remain compliant with all applicable state and federal laws. Currently, farmers are worried about changes being made to the Clean Water Act and if they are going to incur large economic damages because of it.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s severe flooding, the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas has made quite the media splash. Rising waters left the plant without power, forcing workers to transfer volatile organic peroxides into large refrigerated trucks with independent generators. In up to six feet of water, several of the trucks’ refrigeration systems failed, resulting in combustion of the hydrogen peroxide, a hazardous material under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. This is not the first example of chemical plants having issues with natural disasters; there were significant hazardous material concerns after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and more recently the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. With no indication that these problems will be resolved, it is important to once again look at regulations placed on chemical plants in response to emergency.