Release of the Waters of the US Rule

Welcome back from Memorial Day weekend!

I have been swamped with other work, and so I have not been blogging a lot. But I wanted to take a break from all that other work to alert my readers: it appears that the EPA is likely to release the Waters of the US rule this week. As many of you know, this rule will have a significant impact on land use issues anywhere water is deemed navigable. In fact, the issue of what constitutes “navigable” water and its tributaries lies at the heart of the political tensions around this rule.

From the Los Angeles TimesWith EPA’s proposed clean water rule, Obama again takes an executive action to build his environmental legacy

Here’s the EPA site on the issue: Clean Water Rule

I am headed to Seattle to attend the Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association this week. I am looking forward to hearing the most recent sociolegal research on property, disasters, land use planning in both rural and urban spaces, and legal mobilization. While I do that I will try to keep track of what’s happening with the EPA rule — most likely via Twitter. You can follow me there (@LJH1969).

It’s Spring!

This week is spring break for me. And spring weather came just in time!

Here in the middle of the country, we’re enjoying sixty degree weather, and drying out after all our snow melted and a couple of days of steady, soaking, puddle-making rain. I went for a long walk around Cape Girardeau yesterday and noticed that lawns are soaked, park areas are muddy, and our creeks and rivers are leaving their banks. Indeed, according to a post on the US Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District Facebook page, the Mississippi should crest later this week (on the 19th at Cairo at 47 feet, and on the 20th at New Madrid at 35 feet).

Warm and dry sounds good to me.

There’s a few things happening out there in the world worth noting:

Cycle Pam Hits Vanuatu

Those of you watching the news the last several days know that a major cyclone has hit the island nation Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The BBC has some coverage of the damage here. Cyclone Pam was a Category 5 storm, and the worst tropical cyclone in the South Pacific since 2002. The Economist explains some of the characteristics of Pam that made it “out of the ordinary”. Relief efforts have begun, with various organizations beginning work in the area, including Australia’s Red Cross and financial assistance from Australia, New Zealand, Britain. When I have more information concerning relief efforts, I will post it.

New Madrid Quake Potential

The US Geological Survey released an update to their National Seismic Hazards Map in February. The NMSZ includes southeast Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, western Kentucky, and southern Illinois. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources says that it is the most active seismic zone east of the Rockies. The new USGS hazard map is an update from their 2008 map. In line with some recent scientific studies, they’ve elevated the potential for a serious earthquake in southeast Missouri. I blogged about some of that research several months ago. The Southeast Missourian summarized the report and discussed the possible ramifications for the region here. For my readers interested Emergency Management and FEMA’s recent work to prepare communities for various hazards, the predictions and findings of this work is especially important. For the more technically minded, the USGS’s Earthquake Hazard Program  provides further information.

Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association

People who are interested in FEMA, Emergency Management and administrative procedure (including those of you who, on occasion, participate in Notice and Comment and attend public hearings on various administrative/regulatory issues) should be interested in hearing that the US Supreme Court ruled recently in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association that administrative agencies no longer have to provide notice and comment when they change an interpretive rule. So, first, what is an interpretive rule? It is an interpretation of a regulation or law, designed to clarify the law/regulation. Here’s a more detailed explanation. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, there is no requirement that interpretive (or interpretative) rules go through Notice and Comment, but past Supreme Court precedent maintained that when an agency had provided a ‘definitive interpretation’ that then, at a later date, they decide to change, they should go through Notice and Comment to provide those affected with an opportunity to receive advance notice of the change and provide public comment. In Perez, however, after citing another famous administrative law case, Vermont Yankee, the Court says that Notice and Comment for interpretive rules is not required. An agency can simply change the rule without advance notice and public comment.

Commentators around the Internet have voiced concerns about the significance of this ruling for its impact on the process to change administrative policy. Some of those concerns include pragmatic political concerns: while it may make changing administrative policies faster and make administration more flexible, a new administration will be able to reverse or change policy much more quickly as well. Along with that, changes that do not bring advance notice strike me as being problematic for stakeholders in general (because it could destabilize expectations concerning what the policy is and whether it will change suddenly); and in regulatory areas such as land use and environmental concerns, where administrative agencies must coordinate with one another as well as state and local officials, lack of advance notice — even just the potential of a lack of advance notice — is likely to create both political and legal difficulties. For a discussion of some of these issues as well as some of the other matters that seem to be looming on the Court’s horizon, see Brian Wolfman and Bradley Girard’s excellent discussion at Scotusblog. Leland Beck also provided some interesting insights here.

(And for those readers interested in administrative law issues, Beck’s blog, Federal Regulations Advisor, is an excellent resource!)