Addressing environmental justice (EJ) concerns highlighted during the campaign is an important priority for the Biden Administration.  Within a week of taking the oath of office, President Biden issued a sweeping executive order with a number of EJ initiatives, including creation of a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council consisting of the heads of each Cabinet-level and independent federal agency.  The order also directed federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of their missions” through development of programs and policies aimed at addressing disproportionately high adverse environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities.
Continue Reading FERC to Increase Focus on Environmental Justice

On August 18, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission  (FERC) issued an order clarifying its filing requirements in the event its e-filing system malfunctions.

By way of background, in August 2019, FERC issued Order No. 862, which revised its procedural regulations to require that any documents delivered to the Commission by any means other than the United States Postal Service be sent to an off-site screening facility instead of to Commission headquarters on First Street in Washington D.C.  (See September 17, 2019 edition of the WER).  Order No. 862 was designed to enhance security for the Commission and its staff and was determined by the Commission not to impact the public’s ability to make timely filings, since the off-site screening facility would log, stamp, and record deliveries just as staff would do at the headquarters location.  In the order, FERC continued to strongly encourage use of e-filing.  Order No. 862 was originally slated to become effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, but the effective date was ultimately delayed until July 1, 2020 (see November 19, 2019 and July 2, 2020 editions of the WER).
Continue Reading FERC Clarifies Policy for Ensuring Timely Filing in the Event of E-Filing Malfunction

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) released a Notice of Inquiry (Notice) on January 19, 2021 to solicit public comments on whether FERC should impose financial assurance requirements on hydropower projects to ensure that licensees have adequate financial resources to maintain their projects in safe condition.  The Notice comes on the heels of a significant and costly failure of two dams in Michigan in May 2020 following years of the licensee’s noncompliance with FERC dam safety orders, partly due to its alleged inability to pay for the work required.  In the months since the dam failures, the licensee declared bankruptcy, leaving insufficient resources to conduct over $300 million in repairs to four different dams, reimburse neighboring property owners for damages caused by flooding, and pay the substantial civil penalty recently proposed by FERC
Continue Reading FERC Floats Financial Assurance Requirements for Hydropower Projects To Ensure Funding for Dam Safety and Environmental Requirements

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued an order proposing a $15 million civil penalty in response to the failure of a licensee to respond to FERC dam safety orders in the wake of the failure of the Edenville dam and downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) in Michigan in May 2020 (see June 1, 2020 edition of the WER).  The December 9, 2020 Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty followed months of FERC orders and directives to the licensee related to the catastrophic failure of the two dams, which resulted in the evacuation of 10,000 people, an estimated $190 million in economic damages to local residents, and $55 million in response costs, prompting Governor Gretchen Whitmer to request a disaster declaration from the federal government.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Order Proposing Substantial Penalty for Licensee in Michigan Dam Failure

In the two months since the failures of the Edenville Dam and the downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) in central Michigan, there has been a flurry of correspondence between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) and the licensee, including a series of directives and the warning of potential enforcement actions from the Commission, as well as discussion of possible harm to protected species following the dam breaches.
Continue Reading Aftermath of the Michigan Dam Failures: Licensee Delays and Possible ESA Concerns

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC) has proposed to revise its Part 12 dam safety regulations through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) released at its monthly public meeting on July 14, 2020.  There will be a 60-day public comment period once the proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register.  The proposed revisions contain three major changes to the existing FERC dam safety regulations:
Continue Reading FERC Proposes Overhaul of Dam Safety Regulations

On May 19, 2020, the Edenville dam on the Tittabawassee and Tobacco Rivers in central Michigan was breached during historic flooding.  The downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) was later overtopped by the increased flows from the Edenville breach.  Evacuation orders were issued for around 10,000 residents in the area and floodwaters from the dam failures encroached on downtown Midland, Michigan, and a nearby Dow Chemical complex.
Continue Reading Dam Fails at Michigan Project with Revoked FERC License

On February 5, 2019, a copy of a December 13, 2018 policy directive memorandum from the U.S. Department of the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) Chief of Engineers was released.  Notably, the memorandum directs the USACE to adhere to a “default time period” of 60 days for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Clean Water Act (“CWA”) Section 401 with regard to USACE’s issuance of dredge and fill permits under CWA Section 404.  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water quality certification.
Continue Reading U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Tighten Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Timeframes

On December 28, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a pre-publication version of a proposal revisiting the cost analysis underlying the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (“MATS Rule” or “MATS”) for coal- and oil-fired electric generating units (“EGUs”) and conducting the residual risk and technology review required by the Clean Air Act (“Proposal”).  The Proposal would reverse a previous finding, issued by EPA under the Obama Administration, that regulation of hazardous air pollutant (“HAP”) emissions from EGUs under the MATS Rule was “appropriate and necessary” but would nonetheless leave the rule in effect.  The Proposal also concludes that more stringent HAP emission limits are not warranted by the required risk and technology reviews.
Continue Reading EPA Proposes to Find the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Not Cost Justified