Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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At issue in this dispute was a piece of real estate, called Long Wharf, that juts into Boston Harbor. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) wished to develop the Long Wharf pavilion, which stands at the northern side of the Wharf, for commercial purposes, but the National Park Service (NPS) refused to grant the BRA permission to do so on the ground that the land remain open for recreational use. The BRA sued NPS and the Secretary of the Interior under the Land and Water Conservation Funds Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the decision of the NPS was supported by substantial evidence and was neither arbitrary nor capricious. View "Boston Redevelopment Auth. v. Nat'l Park Serv." on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review centered on the scope of the New Mexico State Engineer’s regulatory authority over use of surface water in New Mexico when it has been diverted from the Animas River into an acequia in Colorado and accessed from that ditch by Petitioners and others in New Mexico. After review, the Court rejected petitioners’ arguments that the State Engineer lacked statutory authority over waters initially diverted outside of New Mexico and had no jurisdiction to enjoin petitioners from irrigating an area of farmland not subject to an existing adjudicated water right or a permit from the State Engineer. The Court held that the State Engineer was authorized by New Mexico law to require a permit for new, expanded, or modified use of this water and to enjoin any unlawful diversion. View "State Engineer v. Diamond K Bar Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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United Cook filed suit challenging Amendment 12, which removed three historic net fishing areas from the Salmon fishery management plan (FMP), and its implementing regulations as contrary to the Magnuson-Stevens Act's requirement that a Council prepare an FMP “for each fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management,” 16 U.S.C. 1852(h)(1). United Cook also alleged that Amendment 12 was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C). At issue on appeal is whether NMFS can exempt a fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management from an FMP because the agency is content with State management. The court concluded that the Magnuson-Stevens Act unambiguously requires a Council to create an FMP for each fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management. The Act allows delegation to a state under an FMP, but does not excuse the obligation to adopt an FMP when a Council opts for state management. Therefore, the court concluded that Amendment 12 is contrary to law to the extent it removes Cook Inlet from the FMP. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions that judgment be entered in favor of United Cook. View "United Cook Inlet Drift Ass'n. V. NMFS" on Justia Law

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In 2006, the San Mateo Community College District and its Board of Trustees (collectively, District) proposed a district-wide facilities improvement plan that called for demolishing certain buildings and renovating others. The District approved the plan, determining that it would have no potentially significant, unmitigated effect on the environment. In 2011, the District proposed changes to the plan. The District approved the changes, determining that they did not require the preparation of a subsequent or supplemental environmental impact report under Public Resources Code section 21166 and CEQA Guidelines section 15162. The Court of Appeal invalidated the District’s decision, ruling that the District’s proposal was a new project altogether and, therefore, subject to the initial environmental review standards of Public Resources Code section 21151 rather than the subsequent review standards of section 21166 and section 15162. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Court of Appeal erred in its application of the new project test. Remanded for further proceedings. View "Friends of College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo Cmty. College Dist." on Justia Law

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The Water Use Act permits certain groundwater appropriations to be exempt from the permitting process. An exception to one exemption is when a “combined appropriation” from the same source by two or more wells or springs exceeds a certain amount per year. At issue in this case was the definition of the term “combined appropriation.” After an adverse ruling from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) hearing examiner, a group of senior water users (the Coalition) challenged the validity of Admin. R. M. 36.12.101(13), which states that the term “combined appropriation” means “groundwater developments that are physically manifold into the same system.” The district court invalidated Admin. R. M. 36.12.101(13), reinstated Admin. R. M. 36.12.101(7), which provided that “[g]roundwater developments need not be physically connected nor have a common distribution system to be considered a ‘combined appropriation’” and directed the DNRC to formulate a new administrative rule consistent with the court’s order. The Supreme Court affirmed, with the exception of the requirement that the DNRC initiate rulemaking, holding (1) the district court did not err by invalidating the newer administrative rule and reinstating the older rule; and (2) it was the DNRC’s decision whether to initiate rulemaking to change the reinstated rule. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Montana Well Drillers Ass’n" on Justia Law

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Citizens petitioned for a writ of mandate pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, Pub. Resources Code, 21000 et seq., alleging several defects in the environmental documents the city certified when it approved a development project. The trial court denied the petition and Citizens appealed. The court affirmed the trial court's decision and rejected Citizens' arguments that: (1) The environmental impact report (EIR) certified by the city did not mandate adequate mitigation measures for the urban decay impact of the project; (2) the EIR did not sufficiently analyze the project's impacts on landfill and recycling facilities and did not mandate adequate mitigation measures for those impacts; (3) the EIR failed to contain adequate information correlating the project's air pollution impacts with resulting effects on human health; and (4) the city's statement of overriding considerations, a document that explains how the project's benefits will outweigh its significant and unavoidable environmental impacts, was not supported by substantial evidence. However, the court reversed as to Wal-Mart's appeal on the cost of preparing the administrative record, concluding that the trial court's application of Hayward Area Planning Assn. v. City of Hayward was erroneous. View "Citizens for Ceres v. City of Ceres" on Justia Law

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Petitioners seek review of the EPA's rule approving Arizona’s Five Percent Plan for airborne particulate matter around Maricopa County. The court upheld the EPA’s determination that the control measures in Arizona’s Five Percent Plan did not need to be updated, and that the 135 exceedances were exceptional events that are excluded from consideration under the EPA’s regulation and guidance documents. The court concluded, however, that it will not defer to the EPA’s interpretation of the contingency measures requirement because, under the plain language of 42 U.S.C. 7502(c)(9), contingency measures are measures that will be taken in the future, not measures that have already been implemented. Accordingly, the court granted in part and denied in part the petition for review. View "Bahr v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Neighbor Mary Bourassa appealed the Environmental Division’s affirmance of a zoning permit application by Philip and Barbara Wagner and Christopher Guay, who wanted to build a single family residence and detached garage on two merged lots of a six-lot subdivision in Grand Isle. Bourassa, an owner of another lot in the subdivision, opposed development, chiefly on the ground that the proposed house would not be constructed within the “tree line” on the property, as required by the subdivision plat plan. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Wagner & Guay Permit" on Justia Law

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Helping Hand and the Center petition for review of the EPA's final decision granting Sierra Pacific a prevent of significant deterioration (PSD) permit for construction of a new biomass-burning power plant at its lumber mill in California. Because EPA properly took the requisite hard look at Sierra Pacific’s proposed design and the key purpose of burning its own biomass waste, the court held that EPA reasonably concluded that consideration of solar or increased natural gas would disrupt that purpose and redefine the source. Therefore, the EPA did not act arbitrarily or capriciously and Helping Hand’s petition is denied. Because EPA was largely relying on its own guidance, acting at the frontiers of science, the court deferred to the agency’s determination regarding the supplemental greenhouse best available control technology (BACT) analysis. In this case, Sierra Pacific’s application went through an extensive process to issue a reasoned PSD permit for its new biomass burning boiler. EPA properly defined the project and rejected control technologies that redefined the project with thoughtful and reasonable explanations. The Bioenergy BACT Guidance EPA applied to the greenhouse gas emissions from Sierra Pacific’s new facility is rational and thoroughly consistent with EPA’s prior guidance. View "Helping Hand Tools v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In 1975, TNMC purchased property in Cazadero, for use as a monastery and retreat center, including the printing of sacred Buddhist texts in the Tibetan language for shipment to Asia and free distribution to Buddhist practitioners whose libraries have been destroyed by Chinese authorities. In 1983, the county approved a conditional use permit for Timberhill, a Cazadero resort within an area designated as Resources and Rural Development in the county’s general plan. Timberhill’s permit allowed construction of a lodge, a dining room, and 15 guest cabins. In 2000, the county adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND), allowing five additional cabins, a new dining room and other guest facilities, and 10 staff dwelling units. In 2004, TNMC purchased Timberhill and designated it as the Ratna Ling Retreat Center. The county adopted an MND in lieu of a formal environmental impact report, approving a third master use permit for expansion of the Center. Opponents filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act, maintaining that an EIR was required because the proposed project greatly expands an existing printing operation and that the approval violated the general plan and zoning provisions. The trial court and court of appeal rejected the arguments, finding that the approvals did not constitute spot zoning and that the county imposed adequate mitigation measures. View "Coastal Hills Rural Pres. v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law