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  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water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.
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On February 5, 2019, in an unpublished summary order, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit (“2nd Circuit”) overturned the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (“New York DEC”) denial of a water quality certification for National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation’s (“National Fuel”) Northern Access Pipeline Project and remanded it back to the state for further explanation.
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On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (“D.C. Circuit”) in a unanimous decision granted a petition for review in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, No. 14-1271 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019).  The key holding in the case, which concerns the ongoing FERC’s relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted application for water quality certification within one year from when it was initially filed in 2006.  The applicant for many years had followed, at the request of the States, the common industry practice of “withdraw-and-resubmit” of its water quality certification application in an attempt to annually reset the one-year time period for the States to act, as established under CWA section 401.  The D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe invalidated this practice as a means of resetting the statutory clock, instead holding that the clear text of CWA establishes that “a full year is the absolute maximum” time for a state to decide on a water quality certification application.
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