Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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At issue in this case was whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to conduct an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it re-opened an area that it had temporarily closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) pursuant to its authority under 43 C.F.R. section 8341.2(a). In 2006, the BLM closed a portion of the Factory Butte area in Utah to OHVs due to their adverse effects on the endangered Wright fishhook cactus. The BLM lifted that closure order in 2019 and re-opened the area to OHV use, but did not perform any kind of environmental analysis under NEPA before doing so. Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, alleging violations of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court disagreed with Plaintiffs' contention and dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Natural Resources Defense v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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The City filed suit against five multinational oil companies under New York tort law seeking to recover damages for the harms caused by global warming. In this case, the City asserts that its taxpayers should not have to shoulder the burden of financing the City's preparations to mitigate the effects of global warming. Rather, the City suggests that a group of large fossil fuel producers are primarily responsible for global warming and should bear the brunt of these costs.The Second Circuit held that municipalities may not utilize state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions. The court explained that global warming is a uniquely international concern that touches upon issues of federalism and foreign policy. Consequently, it calls for the application of federal common law, not state law. The court also held that the Clean Air Act grants the Environmental Protection Agency – not federal courts – the authority to regulate domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, federal common law actions concerning such emissions are displaced. Finally, the court held that while the Clean Air Act has nothing to say about regulating foreign emissions, judicial caution and foreign policy concerns counsel against permitting such claims to proceed under federal common law absent congressional direction. Because no such permission exists, the court concluded that each of the City's claims is barred and the complaint must be dismissed. View "City of New York v. Chevron Corp." on Justia Law

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In 1987, Central purchased certain Soo assets, including LST rail lines. Soo agreed to retain liability and indemnify Central for “all claims for environmental matters relating to ownership of the Assets or the operation of LST that are asserted” within 10 years of closing, after which Central would assume all liability and indemnify Soo. Years later, contamination was discovered in a former Ashland industrial area, now Kreher Park, which contains a railroad right-of-way purchased by Central under the Agreement. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) identified an old factory as the likely source; its owner, Northern, named as a potentially responsible party (PRP), undertook to shift responsibility to the railroads. Central kept Soo apprised of the situation. Central sent notification to Soo in 1997 that it was seeking indemnification for environmental matters, including at Kreher Park. Soo did not agree to indemnify or defend.In 2002, the EPA designated the area as a Superfund site (CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. 9601). In 2011, the EPA issued PRP notices to Central, Soo, Northern, and others. Northern sued Central, Soo, and the city for its cleanup expenses. The EPA cited evidence that the railroads engaged in activities contributing to the contamination. The railroads settled the EPA and Northern claims for $10.5 million.In breach of contract litigation between the railroads, the district court granted Soo summary judgment, finding that no claim had been asserted during the claim period. Central then argued that it should not be responsible for the portion of the environmental claims attributable to operations and land not purchased by Central. The court rejected the argument and awarded Soo $10,799,427, prejudgment interest, and $1,776,764 for attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No “claim” was asserted against the railroads during the Agreement’s claim period; Northern never threatened litigation and the WDNR did not take any action that imposed any legal duties or impending legal peril on either railroad. The operation of the railroad business, not just the ownership of the assets, was identified by the EPA as contributing to the contamination; the claims are within the scope of the indemnification clause. View "Wisconsin Central LTD v. Soo Line Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Red River on the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act claim. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that Red River had violated the Clean Water Act, the Surface Mining Act, and, in the alternative, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from alleged discharges of pollutants from point sources at Red River's now-inactive mine, and Red River's activities at the mine were governed by a combined Clean Water Act and Surface Mining Act permit issued by Virginia.The court held that, because the Surface Mining Act's lack of a permit shield supersedes, amends, or modifies the Clean Water Act's permit shield, the saving clause prevents liability under the Surface Mining Act for conduct that is otherwise shielded from liability under the Clean Water Act. The court explained that permitting liability under the Surface Mining Act for pollutant discharges that are otherwise exempted from liability under a Clean Water Act permit would contravene the text of the saving clause by allowing the Surface Mining Act to supersede, modify, or amend the Clean Water Act's permitting regime. View "Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards v. Red River Coal Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Society field suit challenging the Corps' issuance of a permit to the Town of Ocean Isle Beach to construct a shoreline jetty to stop chronic erosion of its beaches. The Society claimed that numerous analyses conducted by the Corps in both its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and its Record of Decision were inconsistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA).The Fourth Circuit applied a deferential standard of review under the Administrative Procedure Act and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps, concluding that the Corps adequately examined the relevant facts and data and provided explanations that rationally connected those facts and data with the choices that it made. In this case, the Corps collected a broad range of data drawn from the facts and objectives of the project at issue, historical statistics and records, computer analyses, and opinions of other specialized agencies, and it analyzed those data to make judgments ultimately based on its own special expertise under the numerous criteria imposed by NEPA and the CWA. View "National Audubon Society v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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In 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists discovered that endangered mussels were dying on the banks of Indiana's Tippecanoe River. The Service focused on the upstream Oakdale Dam, which significantly restricts the flow of water downstream in order to generate hydroelectricity and to create a lake. The Service worked with Oakdale's operator to develop new procedures that would require the dam to release more water during droughts. After a lengthy process of interagency cooperation and public dialogue, the new procedures were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has licensing authority over hydroelectric dams on federally regulated waters.Local governmental entities sought review of the Commission’s decision and the Service’s Biological Opinion upon which the Commission relied. The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part. The court rejected some challenges to the validity of the Biological Opinion, which were not raised on rehearing before the Commission. There was otherwise no error in the agencies’ expert scientific analyses. The agencies failed to adequately explain why the new dam procedures do not violate a regulation prohibiting the Service from requiring more than “minor” changes to the Commission’s proposal for dam operations. Because vacating the agencies’ decisions would subject the dam operator to contradictory legal obligations imposed by separate agencies, the court remanded to the Commission without vacatur for further proceedings. View "Shafer & Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corp. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed a petition for review challenging the EPA's 2017 Rule, "Promulgation of Air Quality Implementation Plans; State of Texas; Regional Haze and Interstate Visibility Transport Federal Implementation Plan." Petitioners also sought reconsideration of the 2017 Rule, contending that the 2017 Rule was adopted without following notice and comment requirements and that it was unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious in various ways. Petitioners and the EPA then filed a joint motion requesting the petition for review of the 2017 rule be held in abeyance pending the EPA's resolution of the petition for reconsideration and the completion of any reconsideration process. The Fifth Circuit granted the motion. The EPA subsequently issued the 2020 Rule. Petitioners sought review of the 2020 Rule and filed a motion requesting the D.C. Circuit to confirm that venue was proper in that court. Respondent-Intervenors jointly moved for reconsideration of an order denying without prejudice their motion to confirm venue and order transferring this consolidated proceeding to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.The Fifth Circuit explained that it has employed a "first-filed" rule, much like the rule set forth in 28 U.S.C. 2112, when faced with a competing challenge to the same administrative action in another court of appeals. The court concluded that the 2020 Rule should be the agency action relied upon for purposes of section 2112 and the "first-filed" rule. Because petitioners first filed their challenge to the 2020 Rule in the D.C. Circuit, that court should be the first to determine the venue question. Finally, Respondent-Intervenors can show no prejudice from the court's orders consolidating and transferring the consolidated cases. Therefore, the court denied the motion for reconsideration. View "National Parks Conservation Ass'n v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied a petition for review of the Commission's orders determining that the DEC had waived its authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to issue or deny a water quality certification for a natural gas pipeline project sponsored by National Fuel. The court concluded that Section 401's one-year time limit may not be extended by the type of agreement between a certifying agency and an applicant used here. In this case, the Commission reasonably concluded that the Natural Gas Act's rehearing provision did not bar National Fuel from seeking a waiver determination outside of the 30-day window to file a rehearing request, and that FERC acted within its discretion in treating National Fuel's December 2017 filing as a timely motion for a waiver determination. Therefore, the Commission properly concluded that the DEC waived its certification authority. View "New York State Department of Environmental Conservation v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the factual findings of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were "insufficient to facilitate judicial review" of a permitting decision, holding that the Agency is not required under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401-7671q, and its applicable regulations to investigate allegations of "sham" permitting when a source first applies for a synthetic minor source permit.At issue was whether the Agency was required to investigate allegations of sham permitting when consider whether to approve the air-emissions permit of PolyMet Mining, Inc. for a proposed mine. Respondents challenged the Agency's decision to issue the synthetic minor source permit, asserting that the Agency failed to conduct an adequate investigation into whether PolyMet intended to operate within the limits of the permit or whether it was instead seeking a sham permit. The court of appeals concluded that the Agency's short response to the concerns of Respondents was not the "hard look" required under the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act, Minn. Stat. 14.69. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the applicable federal regulations and guidance contemplate retrospective enforcement after the applicant has obtained a synthetic minor source permit and do not mandate prospective investigation. View "In re Issuance of Air Emissions Permit No. 13700345-101 for PolyMet Mining, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the order of the Montana Water Court reversing the order of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) denying Daniel and Sandra DeBuff's amended application for a beneficial water use permit, holding that the application satisfied the statutory criteria for a preliminary determination and may move forward to face objections.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) DNRC did not improperly relied upon either a geologic map or a 1987 final order in making its determination; (2) the Water Court erred by holding that DNRC's determination that the source aquifer was not discontinuous was clearly erroneous; (3) the Water Court correctly determined that DNRC's failure to consider evapotranspiration evidence provided by DeBuff was arbitrary and capricious; and (4) DNRC's determination that the water was not legally available and would have an adverse effect on senior appropriators was arbitrary and capricious. View "Debuff v. Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation" on Justia Law