Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Oglala Sioux Tribe and its nonprofit association Aligning for Responsible Mining seek a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant Powertech (USA), Inc., a source material license to extract uranium from ore beds in South Dakota. The Tribe maintains that the Commission failed to meet its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.   The DC Circuit denied the Tribe’s petition because the Commission adequately complied with the relevant statutory and regulatory requirements. The court explained that the Tribe failed to demonstrate any NEPA deficiencies that require setting aside the Commission’s decisions.   First, the Tribe argues the agency did not adequately consult with the Tribe. The Tribe’s refusal to participate in the 2013 Survey and its challenges to the opportunity the Tribe was, in fact, afforded. The Commission satisfied its consultation obligations under the NHPA. Second, the Tribe maintains the agency impermissibly failed to survey the Dewey-Burdock area for the Tribe’s historic properties. NHPA regulations permit an agency to conduct a survey as part of its efforts to identify historic properties, but agencies are free to use a survey or some other method to gather information. Finally, the Tribe suggests the agency impermissibly postponed identifying historic properties until after Powertech had begun operations. NHPA regulations, however, expressly contemplate this approach. View "Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC" on Justia Law

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For nearly forty years, there has been ongoing efforts to environmentally remediate the Reilly Tar & Chemical Corporation site in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. In 2019, the site’s original consent decree and remedial action plan were amended in a fashion that some neighboring parties oppose. At issue is whether the neighboring parties may intervene to oppose the amended consent decree.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that neighboring parties may not intervene because the neighboring parties lack Article III standing. The court explained that even assuming the Proposed Intervenors show a concrete injury by having to spend money to remediate their property, there are causality issues that preclude Article III standing. The Proposed Intervenors’ contention that the 2019 Consent Decree will increase the migration of CVOC contaminants from the Reilly Tar Site to their own property is based on two unfounded assumptions: (1) it presumes that the CVOC contaminants were subject to remediation by the 1986 Consent Decree, and (2) the 2019 Consent Decree significantly changes CVOC remediation at the Reilly Tar Site.Given this assurance and the conclusion that the 2019 Consent Decree does not alter Reilly Tar’s CVOC remediation obligations, the Proposed Intervenors have not shown a traceable or redressable injury, which are requirements for Article III standing. Because the Proposed Intervenors lack standing, the court has no authority to analyze their remaining claims. View "United States v. Daikin Applied Americas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC for a permit to construct a wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC acted within its discretion in this case.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) neither of the Intervenors' evidentiary claims were sustainable; and (2) even if the Intervenors' claims were preserved for appeal, the PUC acted within its discretion when it denied the Intervenors' challenges to certain testimony. View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind II, LLC to construct a large wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC followed the applicable statutory directives in granting the construction permit and properly determined that Crowned Ridge satisfied its burden of proof under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PUC did not err when it determined that Crowned Ridge met its burden of proof to comply with all applicable laws and rules; and (2) the PUC's findings were not clearly erroneous as they related to crowned Ridge's burden under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22(3). View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this lawsuit challenging the sufficiency of an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared by California's Department of Water Resources (DWR) the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeal finding that the claims brought by Butte and Plumas Counties under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Cal. Pub. Res. Code 21000 et seq., were preempted, holding that the court of appeal erred in part.The Counties brought a challenge to the environmental sufficiency of a settlement DWR prepared as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proceedings, 16 U.S.C. 817(1), and to the sufficiency of the EIR more generally. The court of appeals found that the action was preempted by the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a et seq. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the Counties' claims were preempted to the extent they attempted to unwind the terms of a settlement agreement reached through a federal process and sought to enjoin DWR from operating certain facilities; but (2) the court of appeals erred in finding the Counties' CEQA claims entirely preempted. View "County of Butte v. Dep't of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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The City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners (collectively, Los Angeles) appealed a trial court judgment granting the petition of Mono County and the Sierra Club (collectively, Mono County) for a writ of mandate directing Los Angeles to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before curtailing or reducing deliveries of irrigation water to certain lands Los Angeles leased to agricultural operators in Mono County. The trial court ruled that Los Angeles implemented a project in 2018 without complying with CEQA when: (1) it proposed new leases to the lessees that would not provide or allow water to be used for irrigation; and (2) while claiming it would study the environmental effects of the new leases, it nonetheless implemented that policy of reducing water for irrigation by allocating less water than usual under the prior leases that were still in effect. Los Angeles did not dispute that it was required to engage in CEQA analysis before implementing the new proposed leases, and it noted it issued a notice that it was undertaking environmental review of those new leases. But it argued that its 2018 water allocation was not part of that project and instead part of an earlier project, and the limitations period for challenging the earlier project has run. The Court of Appeal agreed with Los Angeles, the trial court's judgment was reversed. View "County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency established federal standards for coal ash disposal facilities. Under the governing statute, a state, instead of submitting to federal oversight of coal ash facilities within its borders, can develop its own permitting program and seek EPA’s approval of the state program as consistent with federal standards. Oklahoma chose that path and obtained EPA’s approval of its permitting program. Plaintiffs, a trio of environmental groups, then brought this action contesting EPA’s approval. They challenged the adequacy of Oklahoma’s permitting program on several grounds. The district court granted summary judgment to EPA on most of the claims, and Plaintiffs appealed.   The DC Circuit did not reach the merits because the court concluded that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring them. Thus, the court vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to EPA and remanded for dismissal of the relevant claims. The court explained that Plaintiffs failed to show why compelling EPA to publish guidelines for public participation in state permitting programs would redress alleged injuries to their members from deficiencies in Oklahoma’s program. Thus they lack standing to bring the citizen-suit claim.   Further, the court wrote that Plaintiffs have made no effort to demonstrate, for instance, likely satisfaction of the condition that there be “appropriations specifically provided in appropriations Act to carry out a [federal permitting] program in a nonparticipating state.” Moreover, the court explained that Plaintiffs failed to establish their standing to bring that claim because they fail to demonstrate imminent injury in connection with it. View "Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. Michael Regan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) superseding order of conditions allowing the City of Boston's bridge project to proceed superseded the decision of the Conservation Commission of Quincy to deny Boston's application to build the bridge in question.Boston petitioned the Commission for permission to build a bridge to Long Island because the bridge would have an impact on wetlands in Quincy. The Commission denied the application pursuant to the State Wetlands Protection Act and Quincy's local wetlands ordinance. Boston subsequently sought a superseding order of conditions from the DEP pursuant to the Act. The DEP issued the order. The superior court concluded that the project would be governed by the DEP's superseding order of conditions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the DEP's superseding order of conditions preempted the Commission's denial of Boston's application. View "City of Boston v. Conservation Commission of Quincy" on Justia Law

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“Arabella Farm”, is bounded by three bodies of water—Clearwater Branch, Peach Orchard Branch, and an unnamed tributary of the Eastatoe River. Arabella Farm began clearing 20 acres of land to create its venue. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (Department) conducted an inspection to evaluate the farm’s compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Defendants’ claimed its work fell within an agricultural exemption to the Clean Water Act’s requirements.   Naturaland Trust and Trout Unlimited (collectively “the conservationists”)—non-profit organizations dedicated to conserving land, water, and natural resources—sent a notice of intent to sue letter to Arabella Farm. As the statute requires, the letter detailed the alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The district court dismissed the conservationists’ complaint.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. The court held that the district court erred in concluding that the diligent prosecution bar precluded the conservationists’ federal claims. The court explained that the Department’s notice of alleged violation was enough to commence an action that was comparable to one brought under federal law. That notice invited Arabella Farm to an informal, voluntary, private conference with the Department to discuss allegedly unauthorized discharges. Thus, because the Department had not yet commenced an action when the conservationists filed their citizen suit, the diligent prosecution bar does not preclude them from pursuing a civil penalty action. Further, the court held that the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff was not permitted to sue under the Clean Water Act. View "Naturaland Trust v. Dakota Finance LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellants Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Rocky Flats Right to Know, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association, and Environmental Information Network (EIN) Inc. (collectively, “the Center”) were organizations that challenged the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (the “Service”) 2018 decision to modify trails in the Refuge that were designated for public use. They sued the Service and others, claiming they failed to comply with various federal statutes and regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”) and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (“ESA”). The Center also moved for a preliminary injunction and for the district court to supplement the administrative record and consider evidence from outside the record. The district court denied the Center’s NEPA claims, dismissed its ESA claim for lack of standing, and denied its motions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, et al. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, et al." on Justia Law