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May 19, 2022

First Circuit Reverses Bar on CWA Citizen Suits

Drinking Water

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has overturned its bar on Clean Water Act (“CWA”) citizen suits seeking declaratory relief when a state is “diligently” prosecuting a violation.  In the opinion, the Court agreed with environmentalists and the EPA that its prior opinion was at odds with the text and congressional intent of the CWA.  In the language of the Court, “the limitations set forth in Section 309(g)(6)(A) bars only a citizen suit that seeks to apply civil penalty for an ongoing violation of the CWA and not a citizen suit for declaratory and prospective injunctive relief… Read more


May 26, 2021

Supreme Court Reverses D.C. Circuit on Superfund Cost Recovery Statute of Limitations

The Supreme Court has reversed a DC Circuit decision which held that the territory of Guam was time-barred from pursuing a cost recovery action under CERCLA against the U.S. Government to pay its fair share for the clean-up of the Ordot dump.  Guam and the U.S. signed a Consent Decree under the Clean Water Act in 2004 requiring the territory to remediate the former Navy-owned Ordot dump from leaking into adjacent rivers.  Guam later filed a claim under the Federal Superfund law to recoup some of the clean-up cost.  The D.C. Circuit held that the claim was time-barred by CERCLA’s… Read more


Mar 3, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Application of Statute of Limitation in Superfund Cost Recovery Case

Superfund limitation

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to issue a decision in a Superfund cost recovery case which could provide clarity on whether non-Superfund settlements can start the clock on Superfund’s contribution claims’ statute of limitation.  In the underlying case, the U.S. struck a deal with Guam under the Clean Water Act in 2004 requiring the territory to stop waste in the formerly Navy owned ORDOT Dump from leaching into adjacent rivers.  Guam ended up with remediation costs of $160,000,000 for the clean-up of the dump, but waited too long to try to recover those costs from the U.S. Government, the… Read more


Aug 12, 2020

DOJ Announces Policy to End Enforcement Overlap with States under Clean Water Act

No Penalty

On Monday, July 27, the DOJ issued a memo stating that federal actions seeking penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA) will be strongly disfavored when a state has already initiated its own enforcement action.  The memo notes that the CWA already precludes federal action when a state is pursuing administrative proceedings against an alleged violator under comparable state law, but that the CWA does not have the same prohibition when a state is pursuing a judicial enforcement action.  The policy applies only to civil actions, not criminal cases, and is designed to respect state authority, and avoid duplicative enforcement… Read more


Jan 29, 2020

EPA Announces Plans to Revoke Obama Waters of the United States Rule

Water Pollution

The EPA is dramatically reducing the amount of U.S. waterways that receive federal protection under the Clean Water Act (“Act”).  The biggest change is a controversial move to rollback federal limits on pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways that were introduced less than five years ago by the Obama administration. Under the revised rule, bodies of water which form only after rainfall or only flow part of the year, are not subject to federal control.  This exception also applies to waste treatment systems, groundwater, prior converted cropland and farm watering ponds.  In announcing the new rule, EPA administration Andrew Wheeler… Read more


Sep 18, 2019

EPA Repeals 2015 Clean Water Rule

On September 12, 2019, the EPA signed a final rule repealing the Obama-era 2015 Clean Water Rule, temporarily reinstating the pre-2015 regulatory framework for determining which bodies of water are considered “Waters of the United States” qualifying for federal anti-pollution protections under the Clean Water Act. The pre-2015 regulations are currently in place in more than half the states, due to litigation over the Obama era rule. According to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the Trump administration is working on a replacement WOTUS rule, which is expected to take effect next year. Both the repeal and the anticipated new rule are… Read more


Mar 20, 2019

Groundwater Pollution Liability Under Clean Water Act to be Reviewed by U.S. Supreme Court

Groundwater Pollution

On February 19, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a unanimous decision by a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that underground wastewater injection into a groundwater channel that flows to the Pacific Ocean requires a permit under the Clean Water Act.  The Ninth Circuit decision, Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, et al v. County of Maui, 886 F.3d 737 (9th Cir. 2018), is one of two Circuit Court cases finding liability under the Clean Water Act for unpermitted discharges of pollutants to groundwater for which certiorari petitions are pending in the Supreme Court.  The Order issued on… Read more


Feb 13, 2019

Public Hearing Scheduled for Trump’s Water Rule Proposal

Trump's Water Rule Proposal - Contaminated Pond

The U.S. EPA announced on February 6 plans to hold public hearings in Kansas City on February 27 and 28 to discuss the Trump administration’s attempt to clarify which waters and wetlands receive protections under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”).  The water rule proposal is an attempt to rewrite the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule which the Trump administration believes is overreaching in scope.  The proposed rule (RIN:2040-AF75), still protects rivers and lakes, but not isolated ponds and wetlands.  Protection of intermittent streams, would be based on a complicated formula and based on average flow in a typical year. For… Read more


Oct 31, 2018

Additional Stormwater Regulation on the Horizon in California—and Elsewhere?

Stormwater: clogged sewer

After a ruling by Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles Waterkeeper, et al v. Pruitt, et al, case number 2:17-cv-03454 (August 9, 2018), additional permitting requirements for stormwater discharges may be on the horizon in California and elsewhere.  Judge Wilson’s ruling requires that where EPA has determined that stormwater discharges are contributing to water quality impairment in a watershed, it must “either (1) require NPDES permits for the discharges or (2) enforce [the Clean Water Act’s} total proscription of discharges of pollutants” without a permit. The Los Angeles… Read more


Mar 5, 2018

Federal Appellate Court Rules That CWA Applies To Groundwater Discharges

Groundwater in pipe

On February 1, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision concluding that the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) applies to claims involving the discharge of pollutants to groundwater which ultimately migrate to surface waters. In Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, the Ninth Circuit (which covers federal courts in the states of Hawaii, California, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Montana and Washington) affirmed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the plaintiff environmental organizations and held that the defendant-county was in violation of the CWA in regard to its decades-old practice of… Read more