Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The court affirmed the FWS's finding that listing the whitebark pine as a threatened or endangered species was "warranted but precluded." Wildwest asserted that FWS's decision was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. Determining that the case was not moot, the court concluded that FWS was not bound to list species based solely on the degree of threat they face as demonstrated by the assigned Listing Priority Number (LPN), that instead it could properly consider factors outside of those listed in the guidelines, and further that FWS's decision contained a sufficient “description and evaluation of the reasons and data on which the finding was based” to satisfy the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544. View "Wildwest Institute v. Kurth" on Justia Law

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Louisville Gas and Electric Company (LG&E) sought a permit authorizing it to discharge certain pollutants into the Ohio River in conjunction with the operation of its recently expended generating facility. The Commonwealth of Kentucky, Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division of Water issued the permit. The circuit court vacated the permit. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated LG&E’s permit, holding (1) in vacating the permit, the circuit court and Court of Appeals misapplied controlling federal law; and (2) the Cabinet’s determination that the LG&E permit should proceed under 40 C.F.R. 125.3(c)(1) was a reasonable interpretation of the regulation. View "Louisville Gas & Electric Co. v. Kentucky Waterways Alliance" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose out of the district court’s grant of a preliminary injunction to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The injunction followed the release, without a state permit, of two Mexican gray wolf pups on federal land located in New Mexico by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). The district court’s order enjoined the Department of the Interior, FWS, and certain individuals in their official capacities from importing or releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. Interior, FWS, Ryan Zinke, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior, Jim Kurth, in his capacity as Acting Director of FWS, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, in his capacity as Southwest Regional Director for FWS, and intervening defendants Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, separately filed timely appeals contending the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department a preliminary injunction. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the Department failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. As a result, the district court abused its discretion in granting the Department’s request for injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed and vacated the district court’s order enjoining Federal Appellants from importing and releasing: (1) any Mexican gray wolves into the State without first obtaining the requisite state permits; and (2) any Mexican gray wolf offspring into the State in violation of prior state permits. The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. View "NM Dept. of Game & Fish v. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law

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Until 2000, Sonoma County grape growers could plant or replant a vineyard “as a matter of right” without governmental approval. A 2000 ordinance, governing “grading, drainage improvement, and vineyard and orchard site development within the unincorporated area of the county” requires growers, other than hobbyists, to obtain an erosion-control permit from the Agricultural Commissioner before establishing or replanting a vineyard. An applicant must submit plans demonstrating compliance with certain directives and must accept certain ongoing agricultural practices. The Commissioner issued the Ohlsons a permit to establish a vineyard on land they own that was being used for grazing, finding that issuing the permit was a ministerial act, exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code 21000 (CEQA). The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the ordinance may allow the Commissioner to exercise discretion when issuing erosion-control permits in some circumstances, the objectors did not show that the Commissioner improperly determined that issuing the Ohlsons’ permit was ministerial. Most of the ordinance’s provisions that potentially confer discretion did not apply to their project, and the objectors failed to show that the few that might apply conferred the ability to mitigate potential environmental impacts to any meaningful degree. View "Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the Commissions' determinations following compliance filings by the regional transmission organization for New England's electric grid. The court concluded that the Transmission Owners have standing to bring their challenges, but concluded that the Commission's orders were not inconsistent with its past decisions; the Commission did not apply the wrong legal standard for measuring whether the Mobile-Sierra presumption had been overcome; and the Commission's determination was in accord with the evidence before it. In regard to State Petitioner's challenges, the court concluded that, in light of the clarifications made by the Commission, there is no inconsistency with Order No. 1000. The court also concluded that the Commission did not exceed its bounds of authority under the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824(a). Accordingly, the court denied the petitions for review. View "Emera Maine v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Nearly 20 years after defendants built, sold, and leased back a Rockport Indiana coal-burning power plant, they committed, in a consent decree resolving lawsuits involving alleged Clean Air Act violations at their other power plants, to either make over a billion dollars of emission control improvements to the plant, or shut it down. The sale and leaseback arrangement was a means of financing construction. Defendants then obtained a modification to the consent decree providing that these improvements need not be made until after their lease expired, pushing their commitments to improve the air quality of the plant’s emissions to the plaintiff, the investors who had financed construction and who would own the plant after the 33-year lease term. The district court held this encumbrance did not violate the parties’ contracts governing the sale and leaseback, and that plaintiff’s breach of contract claims precluded it from maintaining an alternative cause of action for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that a Permitted Lien exception in the lease unambiguously supports the plaintiff’s position and that the defendants’ actions “materially adversely affected’ plaintiff’s interests. View "Wilmington Trust Co. v. AEP Generating Co." on Justia Law

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SCAP petitioned for review of an objection letter sent by the EPA regarding draft permits for water reclamation plants in El Monte and Pomona, California. The court concluded that neither 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1)(E) or (F) provides the court subject matter jurisdiction to review the Objection Letter. The court explained that even when a state assumes primary responsibility for issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, EPA retains supervisory authority over state permitting programs under 33 U.S.C. 1342(d). In this case, the L.A. Board chose to revise the Draft Permits and retain control of the NPDES permitting process for the Plants, and the permits were issued through the State of California, not EPA. The court concluded that the appropriate avenue for SCAP to seek redress was through the State's review process. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition for review. View "Southern California Alliance of Publicly Owned Treatment Works v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Services issued a Final Rule in 2012 designating 9.5 million acres of federal forest lands in California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. The Council filed suit challenging the legality of the critical habitat designation. The court concluded, in light of its decision in Mountain States Legal Foundation v. Glickman, that the Council had standing to challenge the designation because it has demonstrated a substantial probability that the critical habitat designation will cause a decrease in the supply of timber from the designated forest lands, that Council members obtain their timber from those forest lands, and that Council members will suffer economic harm as a result of the decrease in the timber supply from those forest lands. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's decision stating otherwise and remanded for further proceedings. View "Carpenters Industrial Council v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9603, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), 42 U.S.C. 11004, require parties to notify authorities when large quantities of hazardous materials are released into the environment. In 2008, the EPA issued a final rule that generally exempts farms from CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements for air released from animal waste. The EPA reasoned that the reports were unnecessary because, in most cases, federal response was impractical and unlikely. The court concluded that petitioners have informational standing and proceeded to the merits. The court granted the petition for review and vacated the Final Rule, concluding that the EPA's action cannot be justified either as a reasonable interpretation of any statutory ambiguity or implementation of a de minimis exception. The Pork Producers' challenge was moot and the court dismissed their petition. View "Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The State Air Resources Board (ARB) was charged with achieving the goal of regulating greenhouse gas pursuant to the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, Health & Saf. Code, 38500 et seq. At issue are the low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) the ARB promulgated. In 2009, the ARB violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Pub. Resources Code, 21000 et seq., when it adopted the original LCFS regulations. In 2013, the court identified the violations and directed the issuance of a writ of mandate compelling ARB to take corrective action. At issue in this appeal was whether ARB's disclosures about the project's effects on biodiesel consumption, and the related increases in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, satisfied paragraph 3 of the writ of mandate. The court concluded that ARB's view that the "project" included only the regulations adopted in 2015 was wrong and explains why it incorrectly chose 2014 NOx emissions as the baseline. The court explained that the proper baseline for a project normally is the conditions existing when the environmental review of the project is commenced -- 2009, in this case. Therefore, ARB's use of 2014 NOx emissions as the baseline was improper and generated flawed results when that baseline was plugged into the formula for calculating environmental change. The court concluded that ARB's flawed analysis of NOx emissions did not cure the CEQA violation identified in Poet I or comply with paragraph 3 of the writ. The court reversed the order discharging the writ and remanded for further proceedings under a modified writ. View "Poet, LLC v. State Air Resources Board" on Justia Law