Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

By
Virginia Uranium filed suit seeking a declaration that the ban on mining the Coles Hill uranium deposit was preempted by federal law and an injunction compelling the Commonwealth to grant uranium mining permits. The district court granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss. On appeal, Virginia Uranium maintains that the Atomic Energy Act preempts Virginia's ban on uranium mining. The court concluded that the district court correctly held that Virginia's ban on conventional uranium mining is not preempted. The court explained that, because conventional uranium mining outside of federal lands is beyond the regulatory ambit of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it is not an "activity" under section 2021(k) of the Act. The court rejected Virginia Uranium's contention that uranium-ore milling and tailings storage are activities under section 2021(k) of the Act, and concluded that the Commonwealth’s mining ban does not purport to regulate an activity within the Act's reach. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly dismissed the case where Congress's purposes and objectives in passing the Act are not materially affected by the Commonwealth's ban on conventional uranium mining. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Virginia Uranium v. Warren" on Justia Law

By
Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement (CONA) appealed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of San Diego and Todd Gloria (in his capacity as former interim mayor of San Diego (collectively, the City)). CONA sued the City in 2013 for an alleged public nuisance caused by noxious sea lion waste odors permeating the La Jolla Cove. The trial court granted the City's motion for summary judgment, finding: (1) the City did not have a duty to prevent harms caused by wild animals; (2) there was no triable issue that the City's conduct caused the alleged nuisance; and (3) Civil Code section 3482 barred nuisance liability.1 CONA challenges these rulings on appeal and argues the City cannot avail itself of immunity under Government Code section 831.2. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, finding, as the trial court found, there was no triable issue as to causation. To the extent CONA's mandamus cause of action rested on an independent duty arising from documents issued by the former mayor, the Court likewise find no triable issue those documents gave rise to a legal duty for the City to act. View "Citizens Odor etc. v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

By
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the standard of liability for violations of two provisions of the hazardous waste laws: 40 CFR section 263.20(a)(1), as adopted by OAR 340-100-0002(1), and ORS 466.095(1)(c). The Department of Environmental Quality (the department) assessed civil penalties against petitioner, Oil Re-Refining Company (ORRCO), after it determined that ORRCO had accepted hazardous waste without a proper manifest form and treated hazardous waste without a proper permit. ORRCO conceded the factual basis for those allegations but asserted a reasonable-reliance defense: namely, that it reasonably relied on assurances by the generator of the waste that the material ORRCO transported and treated was not a hazardous waste, and, therefore, did not require the manifest and permit at issue. The Environmental Quality Commission (the commission) refused to consider ORRCO’s defense, because it interpreted the relevant provisions as imposing a strict liability standard. The Court of Appeals agreed with the commission’s interpretations and affirmed its final order finding various violations and imposing civil penalties. On appeal to the Supreme Court ORRCO argued that the commission should have considered its reasonable reliance defense and that the commission had erred in interpreting the relevant provisions as imposing a standard of strict liability. The Supreme Court rejected ORRCO’s argument because it ignored statutory and regulatory context indicating that a transporter’s or operator’s level of culpability is immaterial to establishing a violation of the relevant provisions. View "Oil Re-Refining Co. v. Environmental Quality Comm." on Justia Law

By
This case involves the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and City's efforts to build a new bridge across the North Fork St. Lucie River. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, 49 U.S.C. 303(c), allows the Secretary of Transportation to approve projects that use section 4(f) lands only if the agency first determines that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to using that land. Plaintiff filed suit claiming that the FHWA abused its discretion in not selecting their proffered alternative that, when built with a spliced-beam construction, would avoid all use of section 4(f) lands. The FHWA concluded that the spliced-beam construction would be "imprudent" because it would cause significantly greater harm to non–section 4(f) wetland areas, as well as "severe social impacts." The court concluded that FHWA was thorough and careful in its analysis and thoughtful in its determination, and the court could discern neither an arbitrary or capricious action nor an abuse of discretion. In this case, the FHWA made its calculus carefully, giving thoughtful consideration to a wide variety of factors, and it worked with many agencies, even those that once opposed the project, to develop remediation plans that mitigate harms to the affected areas. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County v. U.S. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff Givaudan Fragrances Corporation (Fragrances) faced liability as a result of environmental contamination from a manufacturing site that a related corporate entity operated in a facility in Clifton. The issue this case presented for review involved Fragrances' effort to obtain insurance coverage for environmental claims brought by governmental entities in response to discharges of hazardous substances that occurred during the pertinent policy periods running through January 1, 1986. Fragrances claimed that the defendant insurance companies (defendants) wrote liability policies for Givaudan Corporation during those relevant years. Fragrances argued that it was entitled, either as an affiliate of Givaudan Corporation or by operation of an assignment of rights, to have the insurers provide it with coverage for that environmental liability. Defendants claimed that they insured Givaudan Corporation as their named insured, not Fragrances, and that any assignment to Fragrances was invalid because defendants did not consent to the assignment, as was required for a valid assignment according to the language of the insurance policies. Therefore, collectively, defendants refused to honor Fragrances' right to bring insurance contract claims against them. Fragrances filed its complaint in February 2009 seeking a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to coverage under the policies. In February 2010, while the declaratory judgment action was pending, Fragrances notified defendants that Givaudan Roure Flavors Corporation (corporate successor-in-interest to Givaudan Corporation) planned to assign its post-loss rights under the insurance policies to Fragrances. Defendants refused to consent to the assignment. Nevertheless, Flavors executed the assignment to Fragrances. Both sides moved for summary judgment. Because Fragrances was not acquired by Givaudan Corporation during the policy period, the trial court determined that it could not be an affiliated corporation covered under the policies. The court also determined that the assignment in this case was an assignment of policies, which could not be assigned. The court denied Fragrances' motion and granted defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded, explaining that although the anti-assignment clauses in the occurrence policies at issue would prevent an insured from transferring a policy without the consent of the insurer, once a loss occurs, an insured s claim under a policy may be assigned without the insurer s consent.The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that, once an insured loss has occurred, an anti-assignment clause in an occurrence policy may not provide a basis for an insurer s declination of coverage based on the insured's assignment of the right to invoke policy coverage for that loss. The assignment at issue in this case was a post-loss claim assignment and therefore the rule voiding application of anti-assignment clauses to such assignments applied. View "Givaudan Fragrances Corp. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co." on Justia Law

By
CBD filed suit alleging that EPA violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531, when it reregistered certain pesticide active ingredients and pesticide products without undertaking consultation with the Service as required by section 1536(a)(2) of the ESA (Section 7). The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. 136(u), charges EPA with the obligation to register and reregister pesticide active ingredients and pesticide products. At issue are the 31 failure-to-consult Claims for Relief. In regard to the category one sub-claims, the court assumed, but did not hold, that EPA's issuance of a Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) is an agency action that triggers Section 7 consultation. The court need not decide whether the issuance of a RED is a triggering action because the court held that all category one sub-claims were properly dismissed by the district court as either time-barred or jurisdictionally barred. In regard to the category two sub-claims, the court concluded that these claims failed to identify an affirmative agency action that would trigger Section 7 consultation and affirmed the district court's dismissal of these claims. In regard to the category three sub-claims, the court agreed with the district court that the completion of pesticide product reregistration is simply a fact, and therefore it cannot trigger Section 7 consultation. Finally, in regard to the category four sub-claims, the court agreed with the district court that pesticide product reregistration is an affirmative agency action, but disagreed that those claims are barred by the collateral attack doctrine and require further amendments to the Second Amended Complaint. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA" on Justia Law

By
In the 1990s, the EPA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources investigated the Lower Fox River's contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls and developed a cleanup plan under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The final plan proposed cleanup in stages, by dredging and capping at an estimated cost of $700 million. Under CERCLA, the parties (PRPs) responsible for the contamination are required to pay for remediation. Paper manufacturers NCR and Appvion have funded the cleanup. Other companies, including Glatfelter, also were named as PRPs and agreed to perform remedial work. In 2007, the EPA ordered the PRPs to begin remedial work in the final units. NCR and Appvion undertook remedial efforts, then sued other PRPs, including Glatfelter. In 2014, the Seventh Circuit remanded that cost recovery action, which remains pending. Glatfelter sought discovery relating to Appvion’s costs from Appvion and Windward (an English entity, conducting Appvion’s defense). Glatfelter issued a subpoena to Windward at its attorney’s address. Windward’s counsel claimed that Windward was not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal courts. Glatfelter then instituted an ancillary proceeding. The district court denied the motion to compel. The Seventh Circuit dismissed appeals for lack of jurisdiction; a discovery order in an ancillary proceeding is not subject to interlocutory appeal when entered by the same district court that is presiding over the main action. View "P.H. Glatfelter Co. v. Windward Prospects Ltd." on Justia Law

By
Kor-Ko, Ltd. sought to overturn the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) grant of a construction permit to Maryland Crematory, LLC (MC) to operate a crematorium in the same commercial park building containing Kor-Ko’s business operations. Kor-Ko argued that the MDE failed to adequately consider the health of people within the park due to the emissions to the air from the operation of the crematorium. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the MDE’s issuance of the permit. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the MDE’s issuance of the permit to construct MC’s incinerator was permissible because (1) the MDE’s interpretation of “premises” as extending to the property line of the commercial park was free of legal error; and (2) the MDE’s application of the term vis-a-vis allowing the modeling of toxins at the property line was not arbitrary or capricious. View "Kor-Ko Ltd. v. Department of Environment" on Justia Law

By
Several environmentalist organizations and state, provincial, and tribal governments filed suit challenging the EPA's Water Transfers Rule. The Rule formalized the EPA's stance to take a hands‐off approach to water transfers, choosing not to subject them to the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program. The district court ultimately concluded that the Rule represented an unreasonable interpretation of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251, and was therefore invalid under the deferential two‐step framework for judicial review established in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. The federal government and intervenors appealed. At step one of the Chevron analysis, the court agreed with the district court that the Clean Water Act does not speak directly to the precise question of whether NPDES permits are required for water transfers, and that it is therefore necessary to proceed to Chevronʹs second step. At step two, the court concluded that the Rule's interpretation of the Clean Water Act is reasonable. The court explained that the EPAʹs promulgation of the Rule is precisely the sort of policy-making decision that the Supreme Court designed the Chevron framework to insulate from judicial second‐ (or third‐) guessing. The court stated that the Rule's interpretation of the Act is supported by valid considerations where the Act does not require that water quality be improved whatever the cost or means, and the Rule preserves state authority over many aspects of water regulation, gives regulator flexibility to balance the need to improve water quality with the potentially high costs of compliance with an NPDES permitting program, and allows for several alternative means for regulating water transfers. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. v. EPA (Catskill III)" on Justia Law

By
In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a guidance memorandum, the Cole Memorandum, that addresses enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., in cases involving marijuana. Plaintiff filed a pro se suit against state officials claiming that the Cole Memorandum unconstitutionally commandeers state officials and institutions, and claiming that all defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before publishing the memorandum. The court agreed with the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on plaintiff's lack of standing because he has not sufficiently alleged that setting aside the Cole Memorandum would redress his alleged injuries from the wider availability of recreational marijuana and new restrictions on medical marijuana, and that any adverse environmental effects of recreational marijuana on his own particularized interests are traceable to the memorandum. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "West v. Lynch" on Justia Law