Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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CCA filed suit challenging Amendment 40 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan and the Final Rule implementing that amendment. Amendment 40 was proposed as a means to address problems that had arisen with the red snapper fishery, and the Final Rule contains measures to establish two components within the recreational sector for Gulf of Mexico red snapper: a federal charter component and a private angling component. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants and intervenors. The court concluded that Amendment 40 does not create a separate quota for charter fishing. Rather, Amendment 40 subdivides the recreational sector into private and charter components. The court also concluded that, although the Council’s analysis does not offer quantitative predictions of the effects that Amendment 40 might have on the fishing community, the Council used the best available data to reasonably “assess, specify, and analyze” the likely economic and social effects of Amendment 40. Finally, the court concluded that the selection of data ranges used to calculate quota allocations was not arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Coastal Conservation Association v. U.S. Department of Commerce" on Justia Law

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DTE's Monroe plaint is the largest coal-fired power plant in Michigan; in 2010, DTE undertook a $65 million overhaul. The day before construction began, DTE submitted notice to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stating that DTE predicted an increase in post-construction emissions 100 times greater than the minimum necessary to constitute a “major modification” and require a preconstruction permit. DTE characterized the projects as routine maintenance,exempt from New Source Review (NSR) under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7475, 7503, and stated that it had excluded the entire predicted emissions increase from its projections of post-construction emissions based on “demand growth.” DTE began construction without an NSR permit. The EPA filed suit. In 2013, the Sixth Circuit held that a utility seeking to modify a source of air pollutants must “make a preconstruction projection of whether and to what extent emissions from the source will increase following construction,” which “determines whether the project constitutes a ‘major modification’ and thus requires a permit.” On remand, the district court again entered summary judgment for DTE, concluding that the EPA had to accept DTE’s projections at face value. The Sixth Circuit reversed. DTE was not required to secure the EPA’s approval of the projections, or the project, before construction, but in proceeding without a permit, DTE acted at its own risk. The EPA can challenge DTE’s preconstruction projections and there are genuine disputes of material fact that preclude summary judgment regarding compliance with NSR’s preconstruction requirements. The court noted that construction is complete and that actual post-construction emissions are irrelevant o whether DTE’s preconstruction projections complied with the regulations. View "United States v. DTE Energy Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, several environmental groups, filed suit against the Fola Coal Company alleging that it had violated the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251, and seeking injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the company discharged ions and sulfates in sufficient quantities to cause increased conductivity in the Stillhouse Branch tributary and waterway, which resulted in a violation of water quality standards. The district court found that the company had indeed violated the Act and ordered it to take corrective measures. The court concluded that, because the company did not comply with the conditions of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit, the permit does not shield it from liability under the CWA. Therefore, the district court properly ordered appropriate remedial measures. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Asarco, LLC appeals the entry of summary judgment against it in its contribution action against Noranda Mining, Inc., under Section 113(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"). The district court held that Asarco was judicially estopped from pursuing its claim because of representations it made to a bankruptcy court concerning its settlement agreement with the EPA for the site in question. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that the district court abused its discretion in applying judicial estoppel: "The overall context of the CERCLA settlement approved by the bankruptcy court makes it apparent that Asarco's positions are not clearly inconsistent, that to allow Asarco to pursue its claim would not create the perception that a court was misled, and that Asarco would not necessarily gain an unfair advantage by being allowed to pursue its claim now." View "Asarco v. Noranda Mining" on Justia Law

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Connecticut Energy Marketers Association brought this action against the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (collectively, Defendants) alleging that Defendants violated the Environmental Policy Act when Defendants approved a plan for a significant expansion of the use of natural gas in the state without evaluating the environmental impact of an increase in the use of natural gas pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-1b(c). Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing that no environmental impact evaluation was required because Defendants’ activities did not constitute “actions which may significantly affect the environment” for purposes of section 22a-1b(c). The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in granting Defendants’ motions to dismiss on the ground that the requirement of an environmental impact evaluation in section 22a-1b(c) does not apply to Defendants’ activities in this case. View "Connecticut Energy Marketers Ass’n v. Department of Energy & Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Washington's vested rights doctrine excused compliance with the requirements of a municipal storm water permit. The Washington State Department of Ecology issued the third iteration of a municipal storm water permit pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program (established by the Act). Various permittees appealed this portion of the permit to the Pollution Control Hearings Board, claiming that it violated the vested rights doctrine because it compelled them to retroactively apply new storm water regulations to completed development applications. The Pollution Control Hearings Board held that the vested rights doctrine did not apply to storm water regulations permittees must implement as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the vested rights doctrine excused compliance with the storm water regulations because they were "land use control ordinances." Finding that the Court of Appeals erred in its judgment, the Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the Pollution Control Hearings Board's order. View "Snohomish County v. Pollution Control Hr'gs Bd." on Justia Law

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In Montana’s ongoing water rights claims adjudication proceedings, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed six water right claims related to one natural pothole and five reservoirs. The water sources were located wholly or partially on federal land. The BLM claimed the right to use each source for stock watering by its grazing permittees and for wildlife. Certain objectors (Objectors) raised objections to each claim, arguing that the BLM did not perfect any water rights. The Water Master recommended summary judgment in favor of the BLM on each claim. The Water Court granted partial summary judgment to the BLM and remanded a portion of the pothole claim to the Master for further proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Water Court correctly found that the BLM properly perfected state law water rights in the reservoirs; and (2) The Water Court did not err in granting partial summary judgment on the pothole claim. View "Bureau of Land Management - Barthelmess" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenge the BLM's approval of the Mt. Hope Project, a proposed molybdenum mining operation near Eureka, Nevada. Plaintiffs argue that the BLM’s review of the Project under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., was inadequate and that the approval of the Project violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. 1732(b), and the laws governing lands withdrawn under the executive order known as Public Water Reserve No. 107 (PWR 107). The court agreed with plaintiffs' assertion that the BLM’s selection of baseline levels of certain air pollutants was unreasonable and that the BLM’s analysis of cumulative impacts was deficient. The court declined to address plaintiffs' PWR 107 claims because the BLM should be given an opportunity to fix the errors in its analysis of the Project under NEPA before challenges to the approval of the Project itself are entertained, and the proper analysis of the PWR 107 claim turns in large part on whether four springs in the area of the Project are “covered” by PWR 107, but the BLM’s position on that question is unclear. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with instructions to vacate the record of decision and remand to the BLM. View "Great Basin Resource Watch v. BLM" on Justia Law