Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The proposed construction includes a 488,000-square-foot arena for the Golden State Warriors basketball team and other events, plus two 11-story office and retail buildings, parking, and 3.2 acres of open space, on 11 acres in San Francisco’s Mission Bay South redevelopment plan area. The site is an underutilized industrial area. Planning for the area began decades ago. A 1998 environmental impact report (EIR) incorporated information from a 1990 EIR. In 2015, the Governor certified the current project as an “environmental leadership development project” under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), requiring expedited review. The 2015 EIR was tiered to the 1998 FSEIR. The lead agency found that the project would have significant, unavoidable effects on the environment, adopted a statement of overriding considerations, and authorized implementation of a “mitigation monitoring and reporting program.” The city rejected a challenge by citizens’ groups, approved certification of the EIR, adopted the CEQA findings, and approved the project. The court of appeal affirmed. Although some analysis of potential environmental impacts might have been expanded, the record generally reflects a thorough study of all environmental impacts to be anticipated that were not considered in the 1998 report and identifies mitigation measures to lessen adverse impacts to the extent feasible. View "Mission Bay Alliance v. Office of Community Investment & Infrastructure" on Justia Law

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In 1949, the federal government deeded a large parcel to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), the entity responsible for controlling flooding in eastern Ohio. The deed provided that the land would revert to the United States if MWCD alienated or attempted to alienate it, or if MWCD stopped using the land for recreation, conservation, or reservoir-development purposes. MWCD sold rights to conduct hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations on the land. Fracking opponents discovered the deed restrictions and, arguing that MWCD’s sale of fracking rights triggered the reversion, filed a “qui tam” suit under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729. alleging that MWCD was knowingly withholding United States property from the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court noted recent legislative amendments that replace a fraudulent-intent requirement in two FCA provisions with a requirement that the defendant acted “knowingly,” but concluded that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim even under the more lenient scienter requirement; they did not specify whether or how MWCD knew or should have known that it was in violation of the deed restrictions, such that it knew or should have known that title to the property reverted to the United States. View "Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District" on Justia Law

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In 2012, plaintiffs sued the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, by implementing a right-of-way vegetation-maintenance policy without conducting the required environmental review. The policy required TVA to cut down all trees within its right of ways that were 15-feet tall or had the potential to grow to 15 feet. TVA right-of-way specialists previously had discretion over which trees to remove. Plaintiffs claim that this policy change is a “major Federal action[] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” The district court found that the new “policy” was merely a clarification of longstanding practices and that 2012 Categorical Exclusion (CE) documentation adequately considered the environmental impact. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. On remand, instead of compiling an administrative record, TVA moved to dismiss the case because TVA had reverted to the practices that were utilized before the introduction of the 15-foot rule. TVA submitted two affidavits stating that the responsible TVA official had suspended use of the policy; plaintiffs introduced evidence indicating that TVA had not abandoned the policy. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The record evidence suggests that TVA’s challenged policy has a continuing effect, TVA failed to prove that the NEPA claim is moot. View "Sherwood v. Tennessee Valley Authority" on Justia Law

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The Commission issued two citations to Noranda and assessed penalties for the citations. Noranda's upper management and counsel later realized that the assessment had been paid even though Noranda apparently had intended to contest the citations rather than pay the assessment. Noranda petitions for review of the Commission's order denying a motion to reopen, seeking to adjudicate the citation and penalty on the merits. Because the Commission has not applied its "internal processing system" rule consistently, the court found that the Commission abused its discretion by arbitrarily denying Noranda’s motion to reopen. Accordingly, the court granted the petition and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the court noted that the Commission may very well deny Noranda’s motion to reopen, but it must do so with more clarity than it showed in the first instance. View "Noranda Alumina, LLC. v. Perez" on Justia Law

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Real-Party-in-Interest Encore McKinley Village, LLC (Encore) proposed to construct the McKinley Village Project (the Project). The City of Sacramento certified the Project’s environmental impact report (EIR) and approved the Project. East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City (ESPLC), a neighborhood group, appeals from denial of its petition for a writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief to set aside the City’s approval of the Project. ESPLC contended the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved the Project because: (1) the Project description is defective; (2) there was illegal piecemealing; (3) the EIR failed to analyze significant health risks; (4) the EIR ignored significant traffic impacts; and (5) the EIR failed to disclose or mitigate methane migration. Further, ESPLC contends the Project was inconsistent with the City’s general plan. After review, the Court of Appeals found merit in only the fourth contention. ESPLC challenged the threshold of significance used in the EIR to determine whether traffic impacts were significant; the City relied on policies in its general plan that permitted congested traffic conditions within the core area of the City, thus finding no significant impact of congested traffic on neighborhood streets. The Court held that compliance with a general plan policy did not conclusively establish there was no significant environmental impact, and the City failed to explain why it found none in this circumstance. The Court reversed the judgment and remanded for the City to correct this deficiency in the EIR. View "East Sacramento Partnership v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Appellant’s objection to three water right claims owned by Granite County. Appellant objected to the County’s water right claims in proceedings before the Water Court, arguing that the 1906 decree in the case of Montana Water, Electric and Mining Co. v. Schuh required the County to release storage water to benefit downstream users. The Water Court rejected Appellant’s argument and granted summary judgment to Granite County. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Water Court did not err in its interpretation of the Schuh decree; and (2) the Water Court properly considered and applied the principles of claim preclusion relied upon by Appellant to limit Granite County’s arguments concerning application of the Schuh decree. View "Granite County Commissioners v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Regional Plan Update (RPU) of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). The RPU generally restricts future development to areas that are already developed, and sets forth the amount of further development that will be permitted in those areas in the future. As a preliminary matter, the court held that plaintiffs have standing to assert claims that are ripe. On the merits, the court concluded that the district court properly entered summary judgment in favor of TRPA where the final EIS for the RPU adequately addressed localized impacts on soil conservation and water quality. Therefore, the EIS’s analysis of the effects of concentrating development was not arbitrary or capricious, and did not violate Regional Planning Compact article VII(a)(2)(A) by failing to address significant environmental impacts of the RPU. The court also held that TRPA reasonably concluded that, in light of anticipated improvements in best management practices (BMP) maintenance, the development permitted in the RPU would have less than a significant effect on water quality. Thus, the TRPA’s assumptions regarding BMPs were supported by substantial evidence and are entitled to deference. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment, including the district court's imposition of costs and denial of reimbursement to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ request for judicial notice was denied as moot. View "Sierra Club v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the County Defendants in 2008, alleging that the County Defendants were discharging polluted stormwater in violation of the terms of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, issued pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (the Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C.1251 et seq. The court held in 2013 that as a matter of law, the County Defendants had violated their permit. In 2012, during the pendency of appellate proceedings, the County Defendants sought and received a new NPDES permit from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (the Regional Board), which now governs the County Defendants’ stormwater discharges. In January 2015, the County Defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ entire lawsuit on mootness grounds, arguing that the 2012 Permit supplanted the 2001 Permit and therefore relief was not available to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal from the district court's dismissal of their claims for injunctive relief. The court held that it has jurisdiction over the appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1). The court also held that plaintiffs' injunctive claims are not moot because the County Defendants are still subject to receiving water limitations, which are substantially the same as the limitations in the 2001 Permit. The County Defendants have not met their burden of making it “absolutely clear” that no violation will recur in the future. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "NRDC V. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Company purchased the assets of Johnson Oyster and assumed the operation of a 1,060-acre mariculture facility at Drakes Estero estuarial bays in Point Reyes National Seashore. The site is owned by the federal government and within the California Coastal Commission’s permitting jurisdiction. The 40-year lease with the federal government expired in 2012. The government did not renew the agreement. The Company unsuccessfully challenged that decision in court. The operation had issues with the Commission relating to unpermitted development that began before and continued after the Company took over. Eventually, the Commission issued a consent order in which the Company agreed to stop certain development. The parties continued to have unresolved issues concerning unpermitted development and restoration. In 2013, the Company filed suit, alleging the Commission had infringed on the jurisdiction of the State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and violated the Coastal Act, the Company’s due process rights, and the California Environmental Quality Act. The Commission sought injunctive relief and civil penalties against the Company. The court denied the Commission’s motion for a preliminary injunction and to disqualify certain Commission staff members from participating in the litigation and from communicating confidentially with the Commission regarding the litigation. The court of appeal affirmed. The Company’s argument that the Commission might in the future take further enforcement actions is too speculative and involves circumstances too uncertain to deprive it now of its staff’s assistance in the litigation. View "Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. California Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (UDAQ) approval of certain changes at Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company’s Salt Lake City Refinery. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club (collectively, Petitioner) filed a request for agency action challenging the permit allowing the changes at the refinery, arguing that the Director of UDAQ conducted a legally insufficient analysis by approving Tesoro’s changes. Upon completion of permit review adjudicative proceedings, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that Petitioners’ challenge be dismissed. The Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality adopted the ALJ’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and proposed disposition and dismissed each of Petitioners’ arguments. The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioners’ appeal, holding that because Petitioners did not address alleged deficiencies in the Executive Director’s final order in their opening brief, they failed to meet their burden of persuasion on appeal. View "Utah Physicians for a Health Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law