Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Since the 1940s, the U.S. Navy operated a landfill on the island of Guam, containing discarded munitions, chemicals, and everyday garbage. The Ordot Dump lacked any environmental safeguards. The EPA added Ordot to its National Priorities List in 1983, and, in 1988, designated the Navy as a potentially responsible party. The Navy no longer owned and operated Ordot—Guam did. The EPA ordered Guam to devise plans for containing and disposing of waste at the landfill and sued Guam in 2002 under the Clean Water Act. Guam and the EPA entered into a consent decree in 2004, which the district court approved; it required Guam to pay a civil penalty, close Ordot, and install a “dump cover system.” The Decree states that it is “binding upon the Government of Guam . . . and on the United States on behalf of U.S. EPA.” Cleanup continues; Guam closed Ordot in 2011. Guam sued the United States in 2017, seeking to recoup its closure and remediation costs, approximately $160,000,000. A suit against the Navy under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9613(f) “contribution provision” was time-barred; a suit under section 107 (42 U.S.C. 9607), the “cost-recovery” provision remained timely. The D.C. Circuit concluded that the 2004 consent decree triggered Guam’s right to pursue a section 113 contribution claim, precluding it from now pursuing a section 107 claim and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. View "Government of Guam v. United States" on Justia Law

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Appellants Baldwin & Sons, Inc.; Baldwin & Sons, LLC; Sunranch Capital Partners, LLC; USA Portola Properties, LLC; Sunrise Pacific Construction; USA Portola East, LLC; USA Portola West, LLC; and SRC-PH Investments, LLC, all appealed an order compelling compliance with administrative subpoenas issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. Appellants were involved (or believed to be involved) in the construction of a large-scale development in the Portola Hills Community in Lake Forest, California. The State Board initiated an investigation into alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and California's Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act occurring during construction activities. In connection with its investigation, the State Board issued subpoenas seeking Appellants' financial records. When Appellants refused to produce the requested financial records, the State Board sought a court order compelling compliance with the subpoenas. With the exception of tax returns, the trial court concluded that the information sought was relevant to the State Board's investigation and subject to disclosure pursuant to the investigative subpoenas. Appellants argued on appeal: (1) their financial records were not reasonably relevant to the State Board's investigation; (2) compelling production of their financial records violated their right to privacy; and (3) the protective order did not adequately protect against disclosure of their private financial information to third parties. The Court of Appeal rejected these claims and affirmed the challenged order compelling production of the Appellants' financial records subject to a protective order. View "State Water Resources Control Bd. v. Baldwin & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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Thomas Alpern claimed the United States Forest Service improperly charges him a fee when he entered Maroon Valley to park and hike. He cited an provision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) he claimed prohibited charging a fee "solely for parking." He argued that this prohibition overrode another REA provision that allowed agencies to charge a fee when certain listed amenities were present, like picnic tables, security patrols, trash bins, and interpretive signs. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding section 6802(d)(1)(A) prohibited charging fees “[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]” something Alpern did not do. The Court found Alpern parked in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed in section 6802(f)(4), not along a road or trailside. So it affirmed the district court’s decision to reject Alpern’s as-applied challenge to the Maroon Valley fee program. View "Alpern v. Ferebee" on Justia Law

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FOA filed suit against NPS, alleging that the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act in approving the Whitetailed Deer Management Plan for the Fire Island National Seashore. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of FOA's motion for summary judgment and grant of NPS's cross-motion for summary judgment, holding that NPS's decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. In this case, NPS was not required to obtain the information about deer movement because it was not essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives; NPS took a hard look at the environmental consequences of the Plan; NPS has presented a rational basis for its decision to employ a Seashore-wide target deer density; and NPS considered all reasonable alternatives. View "Friends of Animals v. Romero" on Justia Law

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The Menominee River runs between Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. According to its origin story, the Menominee Indian Tribe came into existence along the River's banks thousands of years ago. This birthplace contains artifacts and sacred sites of historic and cultural importance to the Tribe. The Tribe learned that Aquila planned a mining project alongside the River, close to Wisconsin’s northeast border. Aquila obtained Michigan permits. The Tribe contacted the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers asking for reconsideration of a 1984 decision to allow Michigan, instead of the federal government, to issue permits under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344. The agencies responded that Michigan would decide whether to issue a “dredge-and-fill” permit to authorize Aquila’s project. The Tribe commenced an administrative proceeding in Michigan and filed suit. The district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that it did not challenge any final action taken by the EPA or Army Corps. The Seventh Circuit affirmed while expressing “reservations about how the federal agencies responded to the Tribe’s concerns.” The court noted that the agency letters did not reflect any final agency decisions and that the Tribe can receive a full and fair review in a Michigan court. The Preservation Act does not require the agencies to consult with the Tribe about the project but applies only to undertakings that are “[f]ederal or federally assisted.” View "Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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At issue here were three EPA orders granting extensions of the small refinery exemption to the Clean Air Act (“CAA”). Those orders were not made available to the public, and were challenged by a group of renewable fuels producers who claimed they found out about the extensions through news articles or public company filings (“the Biofuels Coalition”), and their petition to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals raised multiple questions. The EPA opposed the Biofuels Coalition’s appeal, as did the three recipients of the small refinery extensions, who were granted leave to intervene. The Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the Biofuels Coalition had standing to sue; (2) the Tenth Circuit had jurisdiction over this dispute; (3) the amended Clean Air Act allowed the EPA to grant an “extension” of the small refinery exemption, but not a stand-alone “exemption” in response to a convincing petition; and (4) the EPA exceeded its statutory authority in granting those petitions because there was nothing for the agency to “extend” because none of the three small refineries here consistently received an exemption in the years preceding its petition. The Tenth Circuit rejected the Biofuels Coalition’s claim that the EPA read the word “disproportionate” out of the statute, and disagreed with almost all of the Biofuels Coalition’s assertions that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in granting the extension petitions. The Tenth Circuit held the agency abused its discretion, however, by failing to address the extent to which the three refineries were able to recoup their compliance costs by charging higher prices for the fuels they sell. “The EPA has studied and staked out a policy position on this issue. One of the refineries expressly raised the issue in its extension petition. It was not reasonable for the agency to ignore it.” View "Renewable Fuels Assn. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's interlocutory orders in an action brought by plaintiffs, an environment organization and individual plaintiffs, alleging climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government continuing to "permit, authorize, and subsidize" fossil fuel. In this case, a substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. The panel first rejected the government's contention that plaintiffs' claim must proceed, if at all, under the Administrative Procedure Act. Although plaintiffs had concrete and particularized injuries and the district court properly found the Article III causation requirement satisfied, the panel reluctantly concluded that plaintiffs' injuries were not redressable by an Article III court. The panel held that it was beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement plaintiffs' requested remedial plan. Rather, the panel stated that plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. View "Juliana v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Rio Grande was one of only a handful of rivers that created critical habitat for plants, animals, and humans. “And it is a fact of life that not enough water exists to meet the competing needs.” Recognizing these multiple uses, Congress has authorized the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain a balance between the personal, commercial, and agricultural needs of the people in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley and the competing needs of the plants and animals. WildEarth Guardians claimed the Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the needs of two endangered species that live along the river: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow. The group filed suit under the Endangered Species Act, arguing the Army Corps of Engineers failed to exercise its discretion and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about alternative water management policies that would help protect these species. The district court concluded the Army Corps of Engineers was not authorized by the statute to allocate additional water to species’ needs and therefore was not required to consult with FWS. Finding no error in the district court’s reasoning, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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At issue was the promulgation of a novel rule by the Washington Department of Ecology addressing climate change. Specifically, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Washington Clean Air Act granted the Department broad authority to establish and enforce greenhouse gas emission standards for businesses and utilities that did not directly emit greenhouse gases, but whose products ultimately did. The Department claimed and exercised such authority in promulgating the rule at issue. The Supreme Court held that by its plain language and structure, the Act limited the applicability of emissions standards to actual emitters. "Ecology's attempt to expand the scope of emission standards to regulate nonemitters therefore exceeds the regulatory authority granted by the Legislature." The Court invalidated the Rule to the extent that it exceeded the Department's regulatory authority, while recognizing the Department could continue to enforce the Rule in its authorized applications to actual emitters. View "Ass'n of Wash. Bus. v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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The General Land Office challenged both the Service's listing of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler as an endangered species in 1990 and, about 26 years later, the Service's denial of a petition seeking to delist the Warbler. The Fifth Circuit held that the General Land Office's challenge to the Service's decision to list was untimely. The court held that the Service did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act or its implementing regulations when it declined to delist the Warbler, and thus the district court correctly granted the Service's motion to dismiss. However, the court agreed with the General Land Office that the Service applied the incorrect heightened standard when reviewing the delisting petition. Therefore, the court held that the Service's decision denying the delisting petition was arbitrary and capricious, and vacated the decision, remanding for further proceedings. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "General Land Office of the State of Texas v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law