Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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For almost 60 years, Schnitzer has operated a scrap-metal shredding and recycling facility. The Department of Toxic Substances Control acquired regulatory authority over metal-shredding facilities in the 1980s and issued Schnitzer certification under Code of Regulations, title 22, section 66260.200 2 (an (f) letter)--a conditional nonhazardous waste classification, allowing Schnitzer to handle and dispose of its treated metal-shredder waste as nonhazardous although the material otherwise meets the state’s definition of hazardous waste. In 2014, the Hazardous Waste Control Law (HWCL) Health & Safety Code 25150.82, specifically addressed metal-shredding facilities.The trial court concluded that section 25150.82 imposed a mandatory duty on the Department to rescind the (f) letters, such that Schnitzer must handle its treated metal-shredder waste as hazardous. The court of appeal reversed. After the adoption of section 25150.82, the Department commissioned a study, addressing environmental problems associated with metal shredding. Based on that study, the Department initiated regulatory actions aimed at metal-shredding facilities and their untreated waste. Metal shredders must comply with the HWCL but the study confirmed that once metal-shredding waste has been appropriately treated, it can be safely handled and disposed of as non-hazardous. Schnitzer’s (f) letter authorizing this practice was issued under an HWCL regulation, and there is no basis for concluding it does not comply with the HWCL. View "Athletics Investment Group, LLC v. Department of Toxic Substances Control" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals applying the statutory definition of "public waters" in Minn. Stat. 103G.005, subd. 15, to determine whether the upper reach of Limbo Creek was a public water, holding that the court of appeals did not err.At issue was the upper reach of Limbo Creek in Renville County and whether it was a public water for purposes of environmental review under Minn. Stat. 116D.01-.11. Specifically in question was whether the classification of waters as "public water" was based on the statutory definition of "public waters" in Minn. Stat. 103G.005, subd. 15, or the "public waters inventory" maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' reliance on the statutory definition of "public waters" to determine in this case whether the upper reach of Limbo Creek was a public water, holding that court of appeals did not err. View "In re Petition of MCEA" on Justia Law

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This case arises from a regulatory dispute involving a hydroelectric project. The project aimed to boost a municipality’s water supply. To obtain more water, the municipality proposed to raise a local dam and expand a nearby reservoir. But implementation of the proposal would require amendment of the municipality’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a discharge permit to the municipality. A group of conservation organizations challenged the Corps’ decision by petitioning in federal district court. While the petition was pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed amendment of the municipality’s license to raise the dam and expand the reservoir. The Commission’s amendment of the municipality’s license triggered a jurisdictional question: if federal courts of appeals had exclusive jurisdiction over petitions challenging decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did this jurisdiction extend to challenges against the Corps’ issuance of a permit to allow discharges required for the modification of a hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? The district court answered yes, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The conservation organizations were challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, not the Commission’s amendment of a license. So the statute didn’t limit jurisdiction to the court of appeals. View "Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al." on Justia Law

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Sream manufactures water pipes (bongs). According to Sream, its packaging and labels have long included the statement that such products “should be sold, marketed or used for legal, non-prohibited use only.” Since July 2020, Sream has also placed the following label on its products as a “purely defensive” measure: “WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including arsenic, which is known ... to cause cancer."EHA filed a private enforcement action, alleging Sream had failed to provide a warning that its products exposed consumers to marijuana smoke in violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Health & Safety Code, 25249.5, “Proposition 65”). Section 25249.6 provides: “No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual.” “Marijuana smoke” was added to the list of carcinogens in 2009.The trial court granted Sream judgment on the pleadings, finding EHA had not alleged that Sream’s products require marijuana to function or can only be used with marijuana. The court of appeal affirmed. EHA does not allege direct contact, but instead that individuals “may be exposed to marijuana smoke” if they use Sream’s water pipes with marijuana. Requiring a warning for possible indirect contact, depending on how a consumer chooses to use the product, would introduce confusion into that decision-making process. View "Environmental Health Advocates, Inc. v. Sream, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the environmental court's orders granting partial summary judgment and the ensuing order entering final judgment in favor of the Department of Water, County of Kaua'i (KDOW) in this transfer case addressing the required scope of environmental review under the Hawai'i Environmental Police Act (HEPA) and its administrative rules, holding that KDOW must prepare a new environmental assessment (EA) that complies with HEPA and its administrative rules.KDOW proposed to install an eighteen-inch-diamter water transmission in the Lihu'e area (relief line) that would run 9,000 feet in length and connect to existing KDOW water lines on each end. Pursuant to HEPA, KDOW published a final environmental assessment (FEA) for the relief line and made a finding of no significant impact. Plaintiff challenged the FEA in the environmental court, and the court granted summary judgment for KDOW. The Supreme Court vacated the decision below, holding that KDOW did not properly analyze the impact of water withdrawals facilitated by the relief line and may have improperly segmented the relief line from planned development projects and a water treatment facility project. View "Kia’i Wai O Wai’Ale’Ale v. Dep't of Water, County of Kaua'i" on Justia Law

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The Delaware River Basin Commission banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the Delaware River Basin, reflecting its determination that fracking “poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the [Basin’s] water resources.” The ban codified a “de facto moratorium” on natural gas extraction in the Basin since 2010. Two Pennsylvania state senators, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus, and several Pennsylvania municipalities challenged the ban, alleging that the Commission exceeded its authority under the Delaware River Basin Compact, violated the Takings Clause, illegally exercised the power of eminent domain, and violated the Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. No plaintiff alleged the kinds of injuries that Article III demands. Legislative injuries claimed by the state senators and the Republican Caucus affect the state legislature as a whole; under Supreme Court precedent, “individual members lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature.” The municipalities alleged economic injuries that are “conjectural” and “hypothetical” rather than “actual and imminent.” None of the plaintiffs have standing as trustees of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources under the Pennsylvania Constitution's Environmental Rights Amendment because the fracking ban has not cognizably harmed the trust. View "Yaw v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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The district court entered a Consent Decree between the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas (the City), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the State of Arkansas. The Consent Decree imposed various sewer system improvement requirements on the City over an initial 12-year period. The Consent Decree’s requirements generally include (1) assessing the condition of the sewer system, (2) identifying control measures to address certain defects, and (3) developing a plan to ensure adequate capacity in the sewer system. The City filed a motion for judicial resolution. The district court granted the City’s motion and issued two orders on March 19, 2021, and April 30, 2021. The City appealed those two orders, challenging the court’s ruling that certain severe structural defects had to be repaired by a date certain.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that nothing in the Consent Decree or in Appendix D explicitly indicates that the decision tree only applies to defects with Grades 1 to 3 and not to Grades 4 and 5. But assuming arguendo that it applies to all defects identified in the City’s SSA irrespective of grade, Appendix D conflicts with Paragraph 18. Paragraph 18 provides that all Grade 4 and 5 defects must be included in the RMP. Accordingly, the court affirmed the conclusion of the district court that “the Consent Decree requires the City to resolve the defects in Grade 4 and 5 manholes and sewer lines, and this cannot be accomplished solely by monitoring and maintenance analysis.” View "United States v. City of Fort Smith, Arkansas" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a breach-of-contract dispute involving a stock purchase agreement for the sale of all the shares of stock of International Specialty Products Inc. (“International Specialty”). The selling shareholders were nine trusts and RFH Investment Holdings LLC (the “Heyman Parties”). The purchaser was Appellee Ashland Inc., a leading global specialty chemical company. International Specialty had two wholly owned subsidiaries that went with the sale, Appellee ISP Environmental Services Inc. and Appellee Chemco LLC (“Chemco”). ISP Environmental owned a property known as the Linden property, which for years had been home to chemical manufacturing operations and had an extensive environmental history. As part of the transaction, the parties agreed that the Heyman Parties would keep the Linden property. At the time of closing on the Stock Purchase Agreement, ISP Environmental caused the Linden property to be transferred to Appellant Linden Property Holdings LLC, the Heyman Parties’ designated entity for that purpose. A dispute arose between the parties as to who was responsible for the Linden property’s pre-closing, environmental liabilities. The parties agreed the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the environmental contamination on the property itself. They disagreed as to who was responsible for environmental contamination to areas that were not part of the Linden property but were contaminated because of the activities on the Linden property. Ashland claimed that under the agreement, the Heyman Parties were responsible for all of the liabilities. The Heyman Parties claimed they never assumed any liability in the agreement for the off-site liabilities. The Superior Court agreed with Ashland and found that the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the Linden property’s off-site environmental liabilities. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, however, that under the unambiguous language of the agreement, the Heyman Parties assumed liability only for the Linden property’s on-site environmental liabilities, and assumed no liability for the property’s off-site liabilities. View "The Samuel J. Heyman 1981 Continuing Trust for Lazarus S. Heyman v. Ashland LLC" on Justia Law

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Applicants Christian and Clark Katzenbach appealed the Environmental Division’s decision granting but imposing certain conditions on an Act 250 permit for operating their sand- and gravel-extraction project. Applicants challenged the court’s findings and conclusions under Criterion 5 and Criterion 8 of Act 250. The Vermont Supreme Court found no clear error in the trial court's findings under both criteria, but concluded one condition imposed under Criterion 5 was unreasonable in light of the trial court’s findings. The Supreme Court therefore struck that one Criterion 5 condition and affirmed in all other respects. View "In re Katzenbach A250 Permit #7R1374-1" on Justia Law

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Various parties appealed the dismissal of their action challenging Reclamation’s current operating procedures, which were adopted in consultation with other relevant federal agencies to maintain specific lake levels and instream flows to comply with the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) and to safeguard the federal reserved water and fishing rights of the Hoopa Valley and Klamath Tribes (the “Tribes”). The Tribes intervened as of right but then moved to dismiss the action on the ground that they were required parties who could not be joined due to their tribal sovereign immunity   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, due to a lack of a required party under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19. The panel held that the district court properly recognized that a declaration that Reclamation’s operating procedures were unlawful would imperil the Tribes’ reserved water and fishing rights. The panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the Tribes were required parties who could not be joined due to sovereign immunity, and that in equity and good conscience, the action should be dismissed.   The panel disagreed with Plaintiffs’ argument that the Tribes were not required parties to this suit because the Tribes’ interests were adequately represented by Reclamation. Because Reclamation is not an adequate representative of the Tribes, the Tribes are required parties under Rule 19. The court explained that The McCarran Amendment waives the United States’ sovereign immunity in certain suits. 43 U.S.C. Section 666(a). The panel held that even if the McCarran Amendment’s waiver of sovereign immunity extends to tribes as parties, the Amendment does not waive sovereign immunity in every case that implicates water rights. View "KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT, ET AL V. U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, ET AL" on Justia Law