Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the findings of the Water Court in adjudicating two of Twin Creeks's water rights claims, holding that the Water court did not err in finding that Twin Creeks abandoned one claim by nonuse but misapprehended the effect of testimony regarding the second claim's historical use. Five Twin Creeks claims were at issue before the Water Court. After a hearing, the Water Court issued a closing order ordering changes to four of the claims and removing the issue remarks. At issue on appeal were the statements of claim 40B109102-00 (the 102 claim) and 40B109104-00 (the 104 claim). The Supreme Court held (1) the Water Court did not err in finding that the 102 claim was abandoned by nonuse because the intent to abandon occurred concurrently with the nonuse; and (2) the Water Court erred finding that Petrolia Irrigation District did not overcome the presumption that the 104 claim was correct as filed. View "Twin Creeks Farm & Ranch v. Petrolia Irrigation District" on Justia Law

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In this California Environmental Quality Act suit, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment rejecting the Communities' challenges to an environmental impact report about an oil refinery project. The court held that the agency properly used its discretion to adopt a logical and convenient baseline; the law did not require the report to detail immaterial information about input crude oil composition; Communities forfeited its right to complain about the 6,000-barrel figure because it was essential for Communities to raise this issue before the agency but Communities never did; and the law did not require the agency to list either the refinery's pre-project volume or its unused capacity because these data were immaterial. View "Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit dismissed Sierra Club's petition for review of the EPA's "Guidance on Significant Impact Levels for Ozone and Fine Particles in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permitting Program" (SILs Guidance). The court held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act, because the SILs Guidance is not final agency action. The court explained that the SILs Guidance does not determine rights or obligations and does not effectuate direct or appreciable legal consequences as understood by the finality inquiry. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted the petitions for review of the EPA's 2018 Rule, which suspended the prior listing of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as unsafe substitutes in its entirety. Consequently, even current users of ozone-depleting substances can now shift to HFCs. As a preliminary matter, the court held that it had jurisdiction to consider the petitions for review, because NRDC, like New York, has established its standing to proceed. Furthermore, the 2018 Rule meets both prongs of the Bennett test for finality. On the merits, the court held that the 2018 Rule was a legislative rule and was thus improperly promulgated without the required notice-and-comment procedures. Accordingly, the court vacated the 2018 Rule, remanding to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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In this complaint seeking to have the Attorney General preliminarily and permanently enjoined from distributing monies received pursuant to an agreement between the Attorney General and Smithfield Foods, Inc. and several of its subsidiaries regarding the operation of hog farms to any recipient other than the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, the Supreme Court held that the payments contemplated by the agreement did not constitute penalties for purposes of N.C. Const. art. IX, 7. In their complaint, Plaintiffs argued that payments made pursuant to the agreement constituted penalties under article IX, section 7 and that the Attorney General lacked the authority to enter into the agreement. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Attorney General, concluding that even if Smithfield and its subsidiaries had entered into the agreement in hope of avoiding future penalties, the payments made under the agreement were not penalties, forfeitures or fines collected for any breach of the penal laws of the State. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed precluding summary judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the payments contemplated by the agreement did not constitute penalties for purposes of article IX, section 7. View "New Hanover County Board of Education v. Stein" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the Coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate, seeking a peremptory writ directing the City to set aside various land use approvals, as well as determinations and documents approved under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court sustained the demurrers of real parties and the Coalition without leave to amend and dismissed the Coalition's petition. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the Coalition's CEQA claims are time-barred because they were filed more than 30 days after the City filed a facially valid Notice of Determination. To the extent the Coalition argues on appeal that the agency lacked authority to make any determinations under CEQA or lacked authority to approve the project, while such claims could have been considered as part of a timely action, the court held that they are also time-barred. View "Coalition for an Equitable Westlake/MacArthur Park v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's holding that the EPA properly invoked the deliberative process privilege and Exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to withhold a portion of its OMEGA computer program when responding to plaintiffs' FOIA request. The OMEGA model is an EPA computer program used to forecast the likely responses of automakers to proposed EPA greenhouse gas emissions standards. In this case, the record shows that to the extent the full OMEGA model reflects any subjective agency views, it does so in the input files, not the core model. Therefore, the core model is not deliberative and thus does not fall within the scope of the privilege and FOIA Exemption 5. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a final environmental impact report (FEIR) for the construction of two freeway interchange ramps connecting Interstate 5 and State Route 56 (SR 56) (the Project). However, before the public comment period for the FEIR commenced and without issuing a notice of determination (NOD), Caltrans approved the Project a few days later and then filed a notice of exemption (NOE) two weeks later. The NOE stated that the Project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to Streets and Highways Code section 103,1 which was enacted January 1, 2012. Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision (CRCD) did not become aware of the NOE filing until after the 35-day statute of limitations period for challenging the NOE had run. CRCD filed a petition for writ of mandate and declaratory relief alleging, inter alia, that Caltrans erroneously claimed the Project was exempt from CEQA under section 103 and that Caltrans is equitably estopped from relying on the 35-day statute of limitations for challenging notices of exemption. Caltrans demurred to the petition on the grounds that the causes of action were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the Project was exempt from CEQA under section 103. CRCD opposed the demurrer. On appeal, CRCD contended the trial court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer to the petition because: (1) section 103 did not exempt Caltrans from complying with CEQA in its approval of the Project; and (2) the petition alleged facts showing equitable estoppel applies to preclude Caltrans from raising the 35-day statute of limitations. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer and therefore reversed the judgment of dismissal. View "Citizens for Responsible Caltrans Decision. v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, in a California Environmental Quality Act action, granting a peremptory writ of mandate directing the City to set aside its approval of a mixed-use development project, and to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project. The court held that petitioners did not forfeit their claim that they exhausted administrative remedies; at least one of the petitioners had standing under CEQA and thus the court has jurisdiction over the appeal; petitioners exhausted administrative remedies as to the cultural resource claims; an EIR is required to address the Project's impact on cultural resources; an EIR is required to address the Project's impacts on sensitive plant species; petitioners exhausted administrative remedies as to the oak tree claims; an EIR is required to address the Project's impacts on oak trees; and petitioners adequately exhausted administrative remedies as to each of their aesthetic resource claims and oak tree ordinance claims. The court also affirmed the trial court's post-judgment award of attorney's fees to petitioners as the successful parties in the CEQA action. The court held that CEQA's notice requirement does not preclude petitioners from recovering attorney's fees, and Appellant Gelfand is personally liable for his portion of the attorney's fee award. View "Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills" on Justia Law

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The jaguar is a large felid found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Pertinent here, the jaguar was listed as a foreign endangered species in 1972. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule designating 764,207 acres in New Mexico and Arizona as critical jaguar habitat. Plaintiffs filed suit, contending the Service’s designation was arbitrary and capricious. The district court ruled in favor of the Service. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agency did not comply with the regulation, and the Tenth Circuit's "resolution of this issue is beyond doubt. Further, the agency had a chance to rectify this error, but failed to do so. When an agency does not comply with its own regulations, it acts arbitrarily and capriciously. " The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "NM Farm & Livestock Bureau v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law