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The issue at the center of this decades-long water rights case involved the Pojoaque Basin of New Mexico. A settlement was reached among many of the parties involved. The district court overruled the objectors and entered a final judgment. The objecting parties appealed, arguing the settlement was contrary to law because it altered the state-law priority system, and the New Mexico Attorney General could not agree to enforce the settlement without the state legislature's approval. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined, as provided in the agreement, the State Engineer promulgated rules for the administration of water rights in the Basin. Those rules explicitly provided that non-settling parties “have the same rights and benefits that would be available without the settlement agreement” and that those rights “shall only be curtailed . . . to the extent such curtailment would occur without the settlement agreement.” However, though the settlement preserved their rights, it did not confer the objector-appellants standing to challenge it. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for dismissal of the objections for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "New Mexico v. Aamodt" on Justia Law

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The Center sought a writ of mandate directing the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources to order the immediate closure of oil and gas wells injecting fluids into certain underground aquifers. The Center argued the Department had a mandatory duty to do so under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. 330f, federal regulations, and a memorandum of agreement (MOA) executed by the Department setting forth its responsibilities under the Act. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the petition, first holding that the appeal was not moot, in light of evidence that injections into nonexempt aquifers continued past a 2017 deadline. While the Act is preventative in nature, and injections may be prohibited absent proof that they will harmfully contaminate the aquifer, those principles inform the Department’s performance of its duty to protect drinking water sources but do not, in this unusual case, impose a mandatory duty to immediately cease all injections into nonexempt aquifers, nor do they render the Department’s considered refusal to do so an abuse of discretion. The MOA prohibits the Department from permitting injections into nonexempt aquifers, but the EPA approved a nonsubstantial program revision that temporarily suspended this prohibition in limited, specified circumstances, so the MOA does not entitle the Center to a writ of mandate. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Conservation" on Justia Law

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The alliance filed suit alleging that the Forest Service violated the National Forest Resource Management Plan after approving the Lost Creek Project, which proposed landscape restoration activities on approximately 80,000 acres of the Payette National Forest. The Alliance also raised claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The panel held that the final Record of Decision (ROD) for the Lost Creek Project was arbitrary and capricious because the standards, guidelines, and desired conditions that determine the forest conditions for Management Prescription Categories (MPC) 5.1 were different from those for MPC 5.2. The panel also held that the Forest Service's decision to adopt a new definition of "old forest habitat" for the Lost Creek Project area was arbitrary and capricious, and a violation of the National Forest Management Act. The panel held, however, that the Project's minimum road system designation was not arbitrary or capricious where the Forest Service fully explained its decision in selecting an alternative and considered each of the factors listed under 36 C.F.R. 212.5; the Forest Service did not violate NEPA by improperly incorporating, or "tiering to," the Wildlife Conservation Strategy (WCS) amendments or the WCS draft environmental impact statement; and challenges to the Forest Service's failure to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the endangered bull trout under Section 7 of the ESA was moot. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. USFS" on Justia Law

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Fremont approved a development project in its Niles historical district, which is characterized by unusual trees and historic buildings. The historic overlay district was intended to preserve its “small town character.” The six-acre site was vacant; the developer proposed building 85 residential townhomes in its southern portion and mixed residential and retail in the northern portion. Opponents objected that some three-story buildings might block hill views; to the architectural style and choice of colors and materials on building exteriors; and to the Project’s density as a generator of traffic and parking problems. The city adopted a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act, rather than prepare an environmental impact report, finding the Project as mitigated would have no significant adverse environmental impact. The trial court granted the objectors’ petition and ordered the city to vacate its approvals "absent compliance with CEQA in the preparation of an EIR.” The court of appeal affirmed, stating the Project’s compatibility with the historical district is properly analyzed as aesthetic impacts. Substantial evidence supports a fair argument of a significant aesthetic impact and a fair argument of significant traffic impacts, notwithstanding a professional traffic study concluding the anticipated adverse impacts fell below the city’s predetermined thresholds of significance. View "Protect Niles v. City of Fremont" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the EPA's 2017 order maintaining a tolerance for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In this case, the EPA did not defend the order on the merits but argued that despite petitioners having properly-filed administrative objections to the order more than a year ago and the statutory requirement that the EPA respond to such objections "as soon as practicable," the EPA's failure to respond to the objections deprived the panel of jurisdiction to adjudicate whether the EPA exceeded its statutory authority in refusing to ban use of chlorpyrifos on food products. The panel held that obtaining a response to objections before seeking review by this court was a claim-processing rule that did not restrict federal jurisdiction, and that could, and here should, be excused. Accordingly, the court vacated the order and remanded to the EPA with directions to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days. View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. New York" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 45-108 does not require the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to consider unquantified federal reserved water rights when it determines whether a developer has an adequate water supply for purposes of the statute. This case stemmed from the ADWR’s 2013 adequate water supply approving Pueblo Del Sol Water Company’s application to supply water to a proposed development in Cochise County. The superior court vacated ADWR’s decision, concluding that the agency erred in determining that Pueblo’s water supply was “legally available” because ADWR was required to consider potential and existing legal claims that might affect the availability of the water supply, including the Bureau of Land Management’s unquantified federal water right. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s decision and affirmed ADWR’s approval of Pueblo’s application, holding that ADWR is not required to consider unquantified federal reserved water rights under its physical availability or legal availability analysis. View "Silver v. Pueblo Del Sol Water Co" on Justia Law

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The Lieutenant Governor of Alaska declined to certify a proposed ballot initiative that would establish a permitting requirement for activities that could harm anadromous fish habitat, reasoning that the initiative effected an appropriation of state assets in violation of article XI, section 7 of the Alaska Constitution. The initiative sponsors filed suit, and the superior court approved the initiative, concluding that the proposal would not impermissibly restrict legislative discretion. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the initiative would encroach on the discretion over allocation decisions delegated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game by the legislature, and that the initiative as written effected an unconstitutional appropriation. But the Court concluded the offending sections could be severed from the remainder of the initiative. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the superior court and remanded for that court to direct the Lieutenant Governor to sever the offending provisions but place the remainder of the initiative on the ballot. View "Mallott v. Stand for Salmon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) was not required to hold a contested case hearing prior to consenting to a sublease that the University of Hawai’i intended to enter into with TMT International Observatory LLC for the construction of a thirty meter telescope on the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. E. Kalani Flores requested that BLNR hold a contested case hearing prior to consenting to the sublease. BLNR denied the request and consented to the sublease. The environmental court ruled that BLNR infringed upon Flores’s constitutional rights by rejecting his request for a contested case hearing. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that a contested case hearing was not required by statute, administrative rule, or due process under the circumstances of this case. View "Flores v. Board of Land & Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that agency decisions that provided necessary approvals for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) were arbitrary and capricious. In Case No. 18-1083, petitioners challenged the Incidental Take Statement (ITS) authorizing the pipeline to take five species listed as threatened or endangered. The court held that, although FWS was not required to set a numeric limit, it can only use a habitat surrogate if it demonstrates a causal link between the species and the delineated habitat, shows that setting a numerical limit was not practical, and set a clear standard for determining when incidental take is exceeded. In this case, FWS failed some or all of these requirements for all five challenged species, and thus the agency's take limits were not enforceable. In Case No. 18-1082, petitioners argued that NPS lacked the authority to grant a right-of-way to a gas pipeline and that doing so violated the statutory mandate that agency decisions not be inconsistent with the Parkway's conservation purpose. The court assumed that NPS had the requisite statutory authority but held that NPS did not explain how the pipeline crossing was not inconsistent with the purposes of the Parkway and the overall National Park System. View "Sierra Club v. National Park Service" on Justia Law

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PRP Group, an association cooperating with the EPA to pay costs associated with cleanup of a superfund site in Pasadena, Texas, filed suit against 1200 parties they believed should be responsible for part of the environmental remediation costs. PRP Group filed claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), and its state law counterpart, the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (TSWDA). The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying the state agency and university defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the agencies and universities were entitled to state sovereign immunity. Therefore, the district court erred when it concluded that state sovereign immunity did not bar PRP Group's CERCLA claims. The court likewise reversed as to PRP's state law claims. View "US Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group v. Railroad Commission of Texas" on Justia Law