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The Week Ahead

High Court To Weigh CWA Groundwater Suit; CAAAC Meets To Review EPA Air Program

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument this week in a closely-watched suit that could decide the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) reach into groundwater. Meanwhile, EPA’s Clean Air Act Advisory Committee (CAAAC) will meet to offer the agency advice on a wide range of air rules and policies.


The Supreme Court will hear argument Nov. 6 in County of Maui v. Hawai'i Wildlife Fund, et al., the most prominent in a nationwide series of suits over whether pollution discharges that flow through groundwater into protected surface waters like rivers, lakes and oceans violate the CWA. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with environmentalists that the water law covers groundwater-borne pollution, as has the 4th Circuit in a separate case, while the 6th Circuit backed industry and the Trump EPA to hold that there can be no CWA liability for sub-surface releases.

Each side in the case has argued that a victory for their opponents would upend the law’s structure, with environmentalists saying that a bar on groundwater liability would create major new loopholes for dischargers to avoid permits and other pollution limits. However, Maui, together with industry sectors, EPA and many states, has argued that imposing liability for the discharges would set a precedent for federal discharge limits on huge numbers of previously-exempt facilities, such as septic tanks.

CAAAC Meeting

The full CAAAC will hold its fall meeting Nov. 7 in Arlington, VA. The agency has yet to release an agenda for the meeting, but officials are likely to brief CAAAC members on a wide range of pending air rules, including reforms to the new source review (NSR) permit program; upcoming decisions on whether to maintain the current national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone, particulate matter and other pollutants; and the rollback of Obama-era methane standards for oil and gas drilling.


A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit will hear argument Nov. 6 in Clean Wisconsin v. EPA, et al., which is environmentalists and states’ suit over EPA’s designations of which areas are in attainment or nonattainment for the 2015 ozone NAAQS of 70 parts per billion. Environmental groups in Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois and other states are suing over designations that they say erroneously placed areas either in attainment or out of attainment. A host of states have intervened to support either EPA or the challengers.

Air Toxics

EPA will hold a Nov. 6 public hearing in Washington, D.C., on its proposed risk-and-technology review (RTR) of air toxics standards for the ethylene production sector. The ethylene RTR is one of a series of air toxics proposals where EPA is breaking its trend of proposing to keep existing air toxics rules unchanged, and instead proposing tighter standards for certain sectors.

Comments are due this week on two other proposed RTRs, for integrated iron and steel manufacturing on Nov. 7 and iron and steel foundries on Nov. 8. The foundry RTR includes no additional controls for air toxics, but the integrated-manufacturing proposal would add new mercury limits for the sector.


Comments are due Nov. 7 on EPA’s early planning paper for its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of the oral risks of exposure to three inorganic mercury salts: mercuric chloride, mercuric sulfide and mercurous chloride. Of the three, IRIS only reviewed one in the past -- mercuric chloride -- completing that assessment in 1995. The other two mercury salts will be first-time assessments.

Natural Gas

EPA is hosting a pair of workshops focused on natural gas emission reductions this week in Pittsburgh, PA. From Nov. 4-6 the agency will hold an event focused on the Natural Gas STAR and Methane Challenge programs, including presentations from agency and industry officials.

Then, on Nov. 7, the agency will host a stakeholder workshop on data from EPA’s greenhouse gas inventory related to the natural gas sector, as well as “inventory methods and updates under consideration based on previous stakeholder comments.”

NSR Reform

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee will hold a Nov. 6 hearing on S. 2662, which aims to ease new source review (NSR) permitting burdens for industry. The bill is similar to House Republicans’ unsuccessful proposed legislation from 2018, and would redefine key Clean Air Act terms in order to help plants avoid a “major modification” that would trigger NSR review and potentially tougher controls.


The full Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee will hold a Nov. 5 confirmation hearing for James P. Danly’s nomination to serve a term on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

On Nov. 6, the committee’s panel on energy will hold a legislative hearing to consider a slate of pending bills including some targeted at job training for the clean-energy sector.


The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, which are joint projects between EPA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, will host a Nov. 7 webinar on the interagency entities’ work studying per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and ways to remediate contamination from the chemicals.


The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry will hold its annual meeting Nov. 4-7 in Toronto, Canada.


A National Academy of Sciences panel will meet Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C., to peer-review the National Toxicology Program’s monograph on the neurodevelopmental effects of fluoride, just as a federal judge is weighing whether to hold a trial on EPA’s decision to reject a petition from environmentalists and public-health groups seeking a Toxic Substances Control Act rule limiting use of fluoride in drinking water.


EPA will host a Nov. 6 webinar spotlighting a grant program for research into ways to control nutrient levels in surface waters as a way to combat harmful algal blooms.

Chemical Watch

Chemical Watch’s Regulatory Summit USA runs Nov. 4-5 in Washington, D.C. The conference is designed to “provide the regulatory community with annual updates on important global developments in chemicals control legislation.”

Drinking Water

The American Water Works Association, which represents many drinking water utilities, is holding its water quality technology conference Nov. 3-7 in Dallas, TX.


The Environmental and Energy Study Institute will host a Nov. 6 briefing in Washington, D.C., on “community-centered resilience,” focused on Louisiana’s LA Safe program, which it describes as a “ground-breaking approach to community adaptation planning” for the state’s storm-battered coastal areas.

Natural Resource Damages

The District of Columbia Bar Association will hold a Nov. 6 panel discussion as an “introduction” to the law of natural resource damages.