Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

By
Williams Alaska Petroleum owned the North Pole refinery until 2004. Williams knew that the then-unregulated chemical sulfolane was present in refinery property groundwater, but it did not know that the sulfolane had migrated off the refinery property via underground water flow. Flint Hills Resources Alaska bought the North Pole refinery from Williams in 2004 pursuant to a contract that contained detailed terms regarding environmental liabilities, indemnification, and damages caps. Almost immediately the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation informed Flint Hills that sulfolane was to be a regulated chemical and that Flint Hills needed to find the source of the sulfolane in the groundwater. The Department contacted Flint Hills again in 2006. Flint Hills’s environmental contractor repeatedly warned Flint Hills that sulfolane could be leaving the refinery property and that more work was necessary to ascertain the extent of the problem. In 2008, Flint Hills drilled perimeter wells and discovered the sulfolane was migrating beyond its property and had contaminated drinking water in North Pole. A North Pole resident sued Flint Hills and Williams, and Flint Hills cross-claimed against Williams for indemnification. After extensive motion practice the superior court dismissed all of Flint Hills’s claims against Williams as time-barred. Flint Hills appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that the superior court correctly applied the contract’s damages cap provision, but concluded that the court erred in finding Flint Hills’s contractual indemnification claims and part of its statutory claims were time-barred. The Court also affirmed the court’s dismissal of Flint Hills’s equitable claims. View "Flint Hills Resources Alaska, LLC v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc." on Justia Law

By
After Hurricane Katrina, Congress directed the Corps to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) as a federal navigation project and restore the surrounding ecosystem. The Corps sought a cost-sharing arrangement with Louisiana. Louisiana objected and filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2), contending that the Corps’ decision, expressed in two Corps reports to Congress, was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion because the relevant statutes require the federal government to bear 100 percent of the costs. The district court agreed with Louisiana and rejected a statute of limitations challenge to the suit and concluded that the relevant statutes unambiguously require the Corps to bear all of the costs of deauthorizing the MR-GO. The court bifurcated the limitations issue and found Louisiana’s APA challenge to the closure portion of the deauthorization project timely filed, but dismissed the challenge to the Corps’ decision concerning the ecosystem restoration project because the agency has not taken final action under the APA. On the merits, the court reversed the district court’s judgment that overturned the required cost-sharing between Louisiana and the Corps, which constitutes a reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutes. View "Louisiana State v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

By
Defendant was charged by criminal complaint with unpermitted use of a suction dredge. Suction dredging is a technique used by miners to remove matter from the bottom of waterways, extract minerals, and return the residue to the water. Defendant demurred, arguing (1) state law aimed at environmental conservation effectively banned suction dredging in California, thereby preventing him from using the only commercially practicable method of extracting gold from his mining claim; and (2) because federal law promoted mining on federal land, the state’s contrary legislation should be preempted. The trial court overruled the demurrer. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for consideration of additional evidence and argument. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Congress did not guarantee miners a right to mine immunized from exercises of the states’ police powers. View "People v. Rinehart" on Justia Law

By
In this appeal, the United States challenges its liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-75, for a portion of the cost of cleaning up hazardous substances at three California facilities owned by Lockheed. The government acknowledges its own share of CERCLA liability and also that it agreed to reimburse Lockheed’s share via overhead charges on unrelated contracts. At issue is whether the government has a valid claim that the particular mechanism by which the United States will pay its share of the costs of environmental remediation under CERCLA interacts with the parties’ agreed-upon contract-based reimbursement method in a way that impermissibly requires the government to make double payment. The court concluded that the district court’s CERCLA judgment did not create any double recovery and the court rejected the government's arguments to the contrary; the government's protest that the crediting mechanism does not help, but instead harms it further, is unavailing; even assuming the court was in a position to review the equities of the parties’ own choice in their Billing Agreement to resort to the indirect-cost billing and crediting mechanism and their apparent decision to use that mechanism for payment and crediting of future costs, the government has not clearly identified how the crediting mechanism is a source of inequity; and, at this juncture, on appeal from the district court’s judgment imposing no liability on the government for past costs, section 114(b) simply is not implicated. Because the all of the government's claims fail, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lockheed Martin Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

By
In an environmental enforcement action, the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) issued a violation and imposed a penalty of $10,000 against defendants Hugh and Eileen McGee for placing unpermitted fill in a Class II wetland. Defendants appealed and, following a site visit and evidentiary hearing, the Environmental Division concluded that the land was not exempt, upheld the violation, and reduced the penalty to $3647. On appeal, defendants argued that the land was used for grazing horses and it therefore met the requirements for a farming exemption in the wetlands regulations. After its review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the evidence supported the Environmental Division’s finding that the area had not been used consistently to grow food or crops since 1990 and therefore any exemption had expired, and affirmed. View "Agency of Natural Resources v. McGee" on Justia Law

By
O’Malley is serving 10 years in prison for violating the Clean Air Act by improperly removing and disposing of insulation containing regulated asbestos, 42 U.S.C. 7413(c)(1). After the Seventh Circuit upheld his convictions on direct appeal, O’Malley filed what he called a motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(b)(1) for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. That rule authorizes a district court to grant a timely request for a new trial “if the interest of justice so requires.” The district court concluded that O’Malley’s submission contained constitutional theories that, the court reasoned, are incompatible with Rule 33 and cognizable only under 28 U.S.C. 2255 and that the remainder of O’Malley’s motion could not entitle him to relief under Rule 33, because the new evidence, purportedly discrediting a prosecution witness, was not material. The Seventh Circuit vacated, concluding that the entirety of O’Malley’s submission was within the scope of Rule 33(b)(1) even if his theories overlap with section 2255 and that the district court should have respected his choice between these available means of relief. View "United States v. O'Malley" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the EPA and the Corps' joint promulgation of the Clean Water Rule, which defines the term “Waters of the United States” for purposes of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. The district court subsequently denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1) gives courts of appeals exclusive original jurisdiction over challenges to the rule. Plaintiffs appealed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief. Plaintiffs in this case also filed in this court what they termed a “protective” petition for direct review of their Clean Water Rule challenge. The court concluded that, because of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the Clean Water Rule, those opposing the rule are not being harmed by it in the interim. And, if the Sixth Circuit holds that the rule is invalid, that will end the matter, subject (as all panel decisions are) to the possibility of en banc and certiorari review. In any event, the decision of that court will likely narrow and refine, if not render moot, at least some of the issues this court asked the parties to brief. For all of these reasons, the court exercised its discretion to stay its hand in this case pending a decision of the Sixth Circuit or further developments. Accordingly, the court held the appeal in abeyance and ordered the district court to stay all further proceedings. View "State of Georgia v. McCarthey" on Justia Law

By
In 2013, BLM adopted a new Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) where the 26,098-acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness tract would remain closed to off-road vehicles, as would 9,261 acres of milkvetch critical habitat. BLM additionally prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the 2013 RAMP, and consulted with the Service pursuant to section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. As a result, the Service issued a new Biological Opinion finding that the 2013 RAMP was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the milkvetch or desert tortoise. The Center brought challenges under the ESA; the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.; the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. 1701–1785; the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.; and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706 et seq. The district court granted summary judgment for BLM on all but one issue. The court concluded that the ESA does not require Biological Opinions to contain Incidental Take Statements for threatened plants. Therefore, the court need not consider separately the Services' interpretation of the statute. The court rejected the Center's remaining claims, concluding that the Center has failed to demonstrate that BLM’s emissions analysis was arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Center for Bio. Diversity v. BLM" on Justia Law

By
In 2005 Constand alleged that William Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home. During the​ discovery process, Constand’s counsel took Cosby’s deposition and questioned him regarding whether other women had ingested Quaaludes prior to a sexual encounter with Cosby. The deposition resulted in discovery disputes. The court entered an interim order, requiring the parties to file discovery documents under seal. The Associated Press (AP) moved to intervene and opposed the order. The court denied the motion, stating that the record was not yet sufficient to determine whether a permanent seal was warranted. The sealed documents reveal several damaging admissions during Cosby's deposition, including that he had: engaged in extramarital affairs; acquired Quaaludes and engaged in sexual relations with a woman after she ingested the drug; and given money to one woman and offered money to Constand. Before the court could rule on whether the documents should remain sealed permanently, Cosby and Constand reached a confidential settlement. The case was dismissed. The interim sealing order continued in effect and the documents remained sealed. Though Local Rules require that the Clerk of Court send a notice stating that the documents will be unsealed unless an objection is filed, eight years passed without the Clerk taking action. In 2015, the court unsealed the records, following a request by AP. Finding an appeal moot, the Third Circuit declined to address whether the court properly balanced the public and private interests. View "Constand v. Cosby" on Justia Law

By
The City of San Jose proposed to demolish the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle and replace it with a new, steel truss pedestrian bridge to service its trail system. The City found that the Trestle was not a “historical resource,” and therefore the project would not have a significant effect on the environment. It adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Public Resources Code 21000). Opponents argued that an environmental impact report (EIR) was required. The trial court invalidated approval of the project, finding that there was a “fair argument” that the Trestle was a historical resource. The court of appeal reversed. The statutory scheme requires application of a deferential substantial evidence standard of judicial review. Substantial evidence means enough relevant information and reasonable inferences from this information that a fair argument can be made to support a conclusion, even though other conclusions might also be reached. Whether a fair argument can be made that the project may have a significant effect on the environment is to be determined by examining the whole record before the lead agency. View "Friends of Willow Glen Trestle v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law