Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Service in an action brought by Pacific Choice challenging the agency's rule imposing a quota system for the Pacific non-whiting groundwater fishery. Pacific Choice alleged that the Service's 2.7 percent maximum share and its "control" rule exceeded its authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 and violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).After determining that Pacific Choice's suit was timely, the panel held that the Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in setting the 2.7 percent maximum share. The panel rejected Pacific Choice's contention that the Service failed to consider market power and failed to articulate the methods by which, and the purposes for which, it set the maximum share percent. The panel also rejected Pacific Choice's statutory and APA challenges to the Service's control rule. The panel applied Chevron deference to the Service's interpretation of "hold, acquire, or use" to include "control," as well as to the Service's definition of "control," and held that nothing in the statute unambiguously foreclosed the Service's approach. View "Pacific Choice Seafood Co. v. Ross" on Justia Law

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TWA challenged the Navy's decision to relocate troops to Guam and construct training facilities on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The U.S.-Japan Alliance Agreement was entered into by the United States and Japan to adapt their alliance to the changing regional and global security environment, resulting in the determination to move Marine troops from Okinawa to Guam.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Navy and rejected TWA's procedural challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), holding that the Marine relocation and the placing of training facilities on Tinian are not connected for the purposes of an environmental impact statement (EIS). Furthermore, the Navy did not violate NEPA's mandate by deferring consideration of the cumulative impacts to a future EIS. The panel also held that TWA's remaining claim—that the Navy failed to consider stationing alternatives beyond Guam and the CNMI for Marines relocating out of Okinawa—also fails based on lack of standing because TWA's claim is not redressable by the judicial branch. Therefore, the panel affirmed the dismissal of this claim. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying TWA's request for leave to amend. View "Tinian Women Ass'n v. United States Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, Advanced Disposal Services Alabama Holdings, LLC, Advanced Disposal Services, Inc., Tallassee Waste Disposal Center, Inc., and Stone's Throw Landfill, LLC (collectively, "Advanced Disposal"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to order the Macon Circuit Court ("the trial court") to dismiss, an action filed by Jerry Tarver, Sr., because, they claimed, the action cannot proceed in the absence of the City of Tallassee ("the City") as a party. In May 2017, Tarver sued Advanced Disposal, the utilities board, and fictitiously named defendants seeking monetary damages as well as injunctive relief for exposure to allegedly contaminated water that had been illegally "discharged" into the river and ultimately sold by the utilities board for consumption by its customers. The complaint alleged Advanced Disposal unlawfully discharged its leachate into the City's stabilization pond, knowing that the leachate could not be properly treated before the resulting effluent was discharged into the river. Tarver also alleged Advanced Disposal discharged "pollutants" into various creeks and tributaries flowing into the river in violation of its storm-water discharge permit. The Alabama Supreme Court denied relief, finding that this action could proceed in equity and good conscience without the City. "The City's role in the underlying dispute potentially makes the City a joint tortfeasor with Advanced Disposal, the utilities board, and MCWA; it does not, however, make the City an indispensable party under the particular facts of this case." View "Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative a question certified to it by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that the public trust doctrine does not permit the reallocation of rights already adjudicated and settled under the doctrine of prior appropriation.This litigation stemmed from Mineral County's intervention in longstanding litigation over water rights in the Walker River Basin to protect and restore Walker Lake. Here, the Supreme Court was asked for the first time to consider whether the public trust doctrine permits reallocating water rights previously settled under Nevada's prior appropriation doctrine. The Supreme Court held that the doctrine, as implemented through the state's water statutes, does not permit reallocating water rights already adjudicated and settled under the doctrine of prior appropriation. View "Mineral County v. Lyon County" on Justia Law

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Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council (“Appellants”) appealed from a district court judgment affirming the Public Service Commission’s order dismissing Appellants’ formal complaint on the basis of a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This appeal arose from Meridian Energy Group, Inc.’s construction of a new oil refinery (“Davis Refinery”) in Billings County, North Dakota. In June 2018, Appellants filed a formal complaint with the Commission, alleging: Meridian was required to obtain a certificate of site compatibility from the Commission under N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1; and Meridian’s planned facility would have a capacity of refining 50,000 or more barrels per day (bpd). Appellants filed their complaint after the North Dakota Department of Health, now Department of Environmental Quality, granted Meridian a construction permit for a “55,000 bpd” oil refinery. The complaint sought a declaration that Meridian’s refinery was subject to N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1 and to the statutory siting process. The Commission determined the complaint stated a “prima facie case” under its pleading rule, and the Commission formally served the complaint on Meridian. Meridian asserted it was constructing a refinery with a capacity of 49,500 bpd, falling outside the Commission’s statutory jurisdictional threshold of 50,000 bpd. Meridian argued, as a result, the Commission did not have jurisdiction over this matter and the complaint must be dismissed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Commission did not err when it dismissed Appellants’ complaint. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment and the Commission’s order of dismissal. View "Environmental Law & Policy Center, et al. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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After Asarco entered into a settlement agreement and consent decree with the government, it filed a contribution action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) against Atlantic Richfield. The district court entered judgment in favor of Asarco, finding that Asarco had incurred $111.4 million in necessary response costs for the cleanup of a Superfund Site and that Atlantic Richfield was responsible for twenty-five percent of that sum.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred in its determination of the necessary response costs incurred by Asarco by including speculative future costs in its tabulation of necessary response costs eligible for contribution under CERCLA. However, the panel held that the district court did not err in allocating responsibility for twenty-five percent of the response costs to Atlantic Richfield. Accordingly, the panel vacated and remanded in part, and affirmed in part. View "ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1948-1981, New Jersey's 65-acre Combe Superfund Site functioned as a municipal landfill. In 1978, Carter purchased the Site. Compaction conducted operations and transported hazardous materials to the Site. In 1983, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) added the Site to the National Priorities List. USEPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) entered into a cooperative agreement that designates NJDEP as the lead agency to oversee the cleanup. USEPA contributed 90% of the cost of managing and performing the work; NJDEP paid 10%. The agreement expressly “negated and denied” the authority of either party to “attempt to negotiate on behalf of the other.”The United States did not file a claim against Carter in its bankruptcy case. In 1983, USEPA notified Carter and others that they were potentially responsible parties (PRPs) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, for the cleanup costs. In 1991 the Bankruptcy Court approved a settlement between Carter and the NJDEP with respect to the Site. In 1998, the United States and NJDEP sued several PRPs; they entered into a global consent decree with several parties (including Compaction) in 2009 for $62.6 million. Compaction consented to a judgment of $26 million but is not obligated to pay unless its recoveries from CERCLA contribution actions against other PRPs exceeds at least $11 million. Carter was not a party to the Decree or the Judgment.Compaction sought contribution from Carter in 2011. The district court granted Carter summary judgment, reasoning that the NJDEP Settlement protected it from contribution. The Third Circuit reversed. A polluting party’s settlement with a state does not protect it from lawsuits seeking contributions toward expenditures made by the federal government on the same site. View "New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. American Thermoplastics Corp" on Justia Law

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Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law

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Taylor's leases for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), set to expire in 2007, incorporated Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1301, regulations. They required Taylor to leave the leased area “in a manner satisfactory to the [Regional] Director.” Taylor drilled 28 wells, each connected to an oil platform. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan toppled Taylor’s platform, rendering the wells inoperable. Taylor discovered leaking oil but took no action. In 2007, Taylor was ordered to decommission the wells within one year. Taylor sought extensions. The government required Taylor to set aside funds for its decommissioning obligations. For Taylor to receive reimbursement, the government must confirm the work was conducted “in material compliance with all applicable federal laws and . . . regulations" and with the Leases. The resulting Trust Agreement states that it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of" Louisiana. Taylor attempted to fulfill its obligations. The government approved a departure from certain standards but ultimately refused to relieve Taylor of its responsibilities.Taylor filed claims involving Louisiana state law: breach of the Trust Agreement; request for dissolution of the trust account based on impossibility of performance; request for reformation for mutual error; and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. OCSLA makes federal law exclusive in its regulation of the OCS. To the extent federal law applies to a particular issue, state law is inapplicable. OCSLA regulations address the arguments underlying Taylor’s contract claims, so Louisiana state law cannot be adopted as surrogate law. View "Taylor Energy Co. LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1996, when she was an infant, Cynthia's family moved to the "Acreage" in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 10 miles from undeveloped land that Pratt used for tests that contaminated the soil. By 1993, most of the soil at the site required removal. Cynthia’s parents allege that in 1993-2000, Pratt excavated contaminated soil that was sold as “fill” for the Acreage and that runoff from the contaminated soil leached into the Acreage’s water supply. In 2009, the Florida Department of Health found a cluster of pediatric brain cancer cases in the Acreage. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Cynthia with ependymoma brain cancer, which metastasized to her spine. Doctors detected thorium-230 in Cynthia’s spine hundreds of times higher than would normally be expected. Cynthia turned 18 in 2014 and filed suit, alleging she was unaware of the contamination until 2014. Cynthia died in 2016. Her Florida law wrongful death by negligence and trespass claims were untimely under Florida's four-year limitations period. With respect to claims under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), her parents cited the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows (or reasonably should have known) her injury was caused by a hazardous substance, or until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit CERCLA’s discovery-tolling provision applies only to actions “brought under State law.” Actions under the Price-Anderson Act borrow from the state where the incident occurred, so Florida’s four-year statute of limitations governs. View "Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp." on Justia Law