An Uncertain, Volatile Year Ahead for Water, Energy Sectors


Clean Water Rule graphic

The latest edition of Bloomberg BNA’s annual Outlook series on water and energy issues finds 2016 to be an uncertain and volatile year for these sectors, and that is putting it mildly.

All of the key Clean Water Act rules—jurisdiction rule, toxic discharges and cooling water intakes at power plants to name a few--that the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated in the past few years are embroiled in litigation.

In the drinking water arena, the EPA is attempting to revise its 20-year-old lead and copper rule after years of studies, discussions and debates, as small towns like Flint, Mich., find lead in drinking water supplies from corrosion.

On the energy front, the oil and gas industry that was apprehensive about upcoming state laws is now more worried about the volatile global markets that have pushed crude oil prices to $31 per barrel (related story for subscribers).

The coal mining sector continues to fight against federal environmental regulations to save the industry’s market share from further declines that in part have been exacerbated by a drop in global demand (related story for subscribers).


Coal production

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to defend before the U.S. Supreme Court its authority to run a program that compensates large companies for not using energy during peak demand periods in the wholesale energy markets (related story for subscribers).

The EPA Office of Water’s top priority in 2016 is to defend the now stayed Clean Water Rule, which attempted to clarify the regulatory scope of Clean Water Act. To date, 32 states are opposed to the rule that would clarify which waters and wetlands are subject to federal permitting, oil spill prevention, and state water quality certification and other statutory obligations (related story for subscribers).

The EPA’s revisions to lead and copper rule are much awaited. The rule was designed to protect public health by reducing corrosion of lead and copper levels in plumbing materials into drinking water supplies.

And yet, small towns like Flint, Mich., are finding lead in drinking water supplies because the corrosive controls in place didn’t work. The town’s residents in anger have sued the state for allowing the town in 2014 to switch from Detroit’s public water system, and by declaring the town’s water to be safe (related story for subscribers).


Flint timeline

By Amena H. Saiyid,