Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The 86-acre Knights Valley parcel in rural Sonoma County is zoned “Land Extensive Agriculture,” which allows wineries and tasting rooms as conditional uses. The project is a two-story, 5,500-square-foot winery building with a 17,500-square-foot wine cave, wastewater treatment, water storage facilities, fire protection facilities, and mechanical areas, covering approximately 2.4 acres. The site contains two residences and 46 acres of vineyards. The nearby area is primarily vineyards. County staff reviewed reports considering impacts on geology, groundwater, wastewater, and biological resources, and concluded that, with recommended mitigation, the project would not have a significant effect on the environment. The county approved the use permit with conditions and adopted a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) and a mitigation monitoring program. The court of appeal upheld the approval. Opponents did not provide evidence that the project is reasonably likely to cause landslides or otherwise generate environmentally harmful releases of debris; that erosion from the project, particularly runoff from the cave spoils, will cause significant effects on Bidwell Creek and degrade the habitat for salmonids; or that the project’s groundwater use will significantly affect salmonids, groundwater supply in neighboring wells, and fire suppression. There was no substantial evidence that the winery will have a significant aesthetic impact or that there is a reasonable possibility the project, as conditioned, will significantly increase the risk of wildfires. View "Maacama Watershed Alliance v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged EPA's 2017 Final Rule approving Louisiana's state implementation plan (SIP) for controlling regional haze. Environmental Petitioners contend that Louisiana's SIP does too little to curb regional haze at federally protected areas. Industry Petitioners contend that Louisiana's SIP overestimates the amount of pollution that their power plants produce. The Fifth Circuit denied Industry Petitioners' petition, holding that EPA did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in relying on the CALPUFF model to approve Louisiana's "subject to BART" determinations. The court applied deferential standards of review and held that, although Environmental Petitioners' challenge presented a closer question, the court denied the petition because EPA's approval of Louisiana's SIP was not arbitrary and capricious. Even though the court noted that Louisiana’s explanation of its BART determination for the Nelson power plant omitted two of the five mandatory factors and failed to compare—or even set out—the numbers for the costs and benefits of the control options Louisiana considered. Furthermore, Louisiana failed to explain how its decision accounted for the EPA-submitted analyses that pointed out substantial flaws in other analyses in the administrative record. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Jackson Redevelopment Authority (JRA) leased several parcels along Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi to the Farish Street Group (FSG). In exchange for a long-term lease and other favorable terms, FSG was given a set period of time to renovate the properties and to sublet them to retail establishments. Watkins Development, which owned half of FSG, contracted with FSG to do the renovations. The plan was to build an entertainment district on Farish Street, but after a few years only a fraction of the renovations were done, and none of the properties were occupied by tenants. JRA terminated the lease, and this litigation followed. The Chancery Court ultimately found that the lease was properly terminated, that no party had shown it was entitled to money damages, and that Watkins Development could not take a mechanic’s lien on the property. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Watkins Development, LLC v. Jackson Redevelopment Authority" on Justia Law

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At issue in appeal was a challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to a project proposing to expand an existing Walmart store by approximately 64,000 square feet (the Project). Years earlier, Walmart Stores, Inc. (Walmart), had proposed a larger expansion project that would have increased the size of the store by approximately 98,000 square feet. In 2009, the City of Chico (City) declined to approve that project. In 2015, Walmart returned to the City seeking approval of the current Project. After preparing a new environmental impact report (EIR), which showed the Project would have a significant and unavoidable traffic impact, the City certified the EIR and approved the Project. The City also adopted a statement of overriding considerations, concluding that the benefits of the Project outweighed its one unavoidable environmental impact. Plaintiff Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (CARE) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City’s environmental review and approval of the Project, but the trial court denied the petition. CARE appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying the petition because: (1) the EIR failed to adequately evaluate the Project’s urban decay impacts; and (2) the City’s statement of overriding considerations is deficient. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy v. City of Chico" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Court of Appeal in this case was the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center by the City of San Diego and of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel by One Park Boulevard, LLC (One Park, and collectively, the Project). The San Diego Unified Port District (Port) approved a port master plan amendment authorizing the Project (Amendment). The California Coastal Commission (Commission) certified the Amendment as consistent with the California Coastal Act, which required certain findings under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (Navy Broadway) filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus against the Commission and the Port to challenge the certification, later adding the City and One Park (collectively, Defendants). Defendants raised a statute of limitations defense, which the trial court rejected after a bench trial. The court then held a hearing on the merits, denied Navy Broadway's petition, and entered judgment for Defendants. Navy Broadway appealed the judgment, and Defendants filed a cross-appeal challenging the statute of limitations ruling. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in rejecting Defendants' statute of limitations defense; the action should have been dismissed, and the judgment for Defendants should be affirmed. The Court elected to address Navy Broadway's appeal and further concluded it could affirm based on the merits of its petition too. View "San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition v. Cal. Coastal Com." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action challenging the BIA's decision to approve an industrial-scale wind facility in Southern California. The panel held that the BIA was not required to explain why it did not adopt a mitigation measure that it did in fact follow. Similarly, the panel rejected plaintiffs' related argument that the BIA should have explained why its record of decision (ROD) found no significant impact to eagles where the environmental impact statement (EIS) considered the entire project and its impact on eagles. The panel also held that the BIA's consideration of five action alternatives was sufficient. The panel was not persuaded that additional environmental review was required and rejected plaintiffs' five grounds in support of their contention that the BIA should have prepared a supplemental EIS. The panel rejected plaintiffs' final two challenges to the BIA's decision concerning the agency's decision not to require Tule to obtain a Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act permit from FWS. Therefore, the panel held that, under the total circumstances of this case, the EIS analysis was sufficient to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act. View "Protect Our Communities Foundation v. LaCounte" on Justia Law

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The former hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When it opened in 1929, it was a luxury resort; the Spanish Revival-style building contains Heinsbergen murals, stenciled ceilings, exquisite tile, and wrought-iron light fixtures. In 1941, the building transferred to the U.S. Navy. It was used as a military hospital until 1962 when it was transferred to the state. Since 1963, the Department has operated a prison adjacent to the building, which served as administrative offices. In 2002, the Department moved its staff from the building and offered to donate it to the City of Norco. The transfer did not occur; 2012 legislation required the prison’s closure. The Department published a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), indicating that there was no funding for repair or rehabilitation and that continued deterioration is expected. The Legislature rescinded the closure order. The final EIR was subsequently certified. The Department indicated that it would not be able to repair or maintain the former hotel due to inadequate funds and higher, mission-critical maintenance priorities. The Foundation repeatedly encouraged the Department to perform necessary maintenance, then unsuccessfully sought a writ of mandate, alleging that the department failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Public Resources Code 21000 by allowing the “demolition by neglect” given the 2014 El Niño rains. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the petition. The Department’s inaction is not a “project” subject to CEQA. View "Lake Norconian Club Foundation v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the EPA's rule implementing the "Good Neighbor Provision," which requires upwind states to eliminate their significant contributions to air quality problems in downwind States, by promulgating a regulation addressing the interstate transport of ozone, or smog. The DC Circuit held that the rule was inconsistent with the Clean Air Act, because it allows upwind States to continue their significant contributions to downwind air quality problems beyond the statutory deadlines by which downwind States must demonstrate their attainment of air quality standards. The court held that EPA acted lawfully and rationally in all other respects. Accordingly, the petitions for review were granted in part and denied in part. View "Wisconsin v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The EPA has discretion not to commence withdrawal proceedings under 40 C.F.R. 123.64(b) even if it finds that a state's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program has not always complied with the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the EPA's decision affirming its previous refusal to commence withdrawal proceedings against Alabama. In regard to the four alleged violations, the court held that the EPA reasonably construed the statutory and regulatory text. The court also held that the EPA's decision not to commence withdrawal proceedings in the face of these alleged violations was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. View "Cahaba Riverkeeper v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court ruling that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had illegally renewed a permit allowing Western Energy Company to discharge rain and snow water into surrounding ditches and creeks from its Rosebud Coal Mine in Colstrip, Montana, holding that further fact-finding was required. In 2012, DEQ renewed a permit, which was modified in 2014, for Western Energy to discharge pollutants contained in waters that were created by ongoing precipitation-driven events. Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that the DEQ's permit renewal violated the Montana Water Quality Act and federal Clean Water Act. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Montana Board of Environmental Review was not required to make a new stream classification for the Yellowstone River drainage; (2) DEQ can lawfully allow the mine to monitor a sample of the discharges that are representative of the precipitation water being released, but the district court must determine whether those releases are actually representative of the mining and discharge activities that are taking place at the mine; and (3) remand was required to determine whether a "pollutant-impaired stream" should be monitored with a higher environmental standard than the current permit requires. View "Montana Environmental Information Center v. Western Energy Co." on Justia Law