Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries
Tulare Lake Canal Co. v. Stratford Pub. Util. Dist.
Tulare Lake Canal Company (TLCC) filed a petition for writ of mandate alleging Stratford Public Utility District (SPUD) failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it granted an easement for a 48-inch water pipeline to Sandridge Partners, L.P. (Sandridge). TLCC applied for a preliminary injunction to halt the construction and operation of the pipeline pending CEQA compliance. The trial court determined TLCC was likely to prevail on the CEQA claim but concluded the relative balance of harms from granting or denying injunctive relief favored denying the injunction. TLCC appealed. The Fifth Appellate District reversed. The court concluded it is a near certainty that SPUD failed to comply with CEQA when it granted the easement. The construction and operation of the proposed pipeline qualify as a discretionary project approved by SPUD, a public entity. As a result, SPUD was required by CEQA to conduct a preliminary review before granting the easement. This strong showing of likely success on the CEQA claims reduces the showing of relative harms needed to obtain the injunction. Second, the court concluded that the trial court erred in stating there was no evidence of harm to the public generally in allowing the proposed project to go forward. Third, the court found that there is a reasonable probability the preliminary injunction would have been granted if the trial court had identified the harm to the public interest in informed decision-making and included it in balancing the relative harms. View "Tulare Lake Canal Co. v. Stratford Pub. Util. Dist." on Justia Law
IN RE: KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT V. USDC-ORM
Disputes over the allocation of water within the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, particularly during the recent period of severe and prolonged drought, have prompted many lawsuits in this and other courts. In this episode, Klamath Irrigation District (“KID”) petitions for a writ of mandamus to compel the district court to remand KID’s motion for preliminary injunction to the Klamath County Circuit Court in Oregon. The motion had originally been filed by KID in that Oregon court but was removed to federal district court by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Interior. Reclamation was identified by KID as the respondent for KID’s motion. The Ninth Circuit denied KID’s petition for writ of mandamus. The panel considered the five factors in Bauman v. U.S. District Court, 557 F.3d 813, 817 (9th Cir. 2004), in determining whether mandamus was warranted. The panel began with the third factor—clear error as a matter of law— because it was a necessary condition for granting the writ of mandamus. The panel rejected KID’s attempt to circumvent KID II, the Tribes’ rights, and the effect of the ESA by characterizing the relief it sought as an application of the ACFFOD. The panel expressed no views on the merits of KID’s underlying motion for preliminary injunction and concluded only that the district court did not err in declining to remand the motion for preliminary injunction to the state court. The panel held that it need not consider the remaining Bauman factors because the third factor was dispositive. View "IN RE: KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT V. USDC-ORM" on Justia Law
L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Bd.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board, Los Angeles Region (Regional Board) renewed permits allowing four publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) to discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater daily into the Los Angeles River and Pacific Ocean. The Regional Board issued the permits over the objections of Los Angeles Waterkeeper (Waterkeeper). Waterkeeper sought a review of the permits before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board), and the State Board declined to review. Waterkeeper then filed petitions for writs of mandate against the State and Regional Boards (collectively, the Boards). Waterkeeper further alleged the Regional Board issued the permits without making findings required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court issued four judgments and four writs of mandate directing the State Board to evaluate whether the discharges from each of the four POTWs were reasonable and to develop a factual record to allow for judicial review of whatever decision the State Board reached. The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s judgments in favor of the Boards and reversed judgments and writs of mandate against State Board. The court agreed with the trial court that the Regional Board had no duty to evaluate the reasonableness of the POTWs’ discharges when issuing the permits. The Regional Board’s purview is water quality, not reasonable use, and the Legislature has not authorized the Regional Board to determine whether a POTW’s discharges could be put to better use. The court further held that Waterkeeper has not adequately pleaded entitlement to mandamus against the State Board, and the trial court should have sustained the State Board’s demurrer. View "L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law
Wolverine Pipe Line Co. v. United States Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Wolverine transports refined petroleum products in its 700-mile pipeline system. These pipelines run from refineries in the Chicago area to terminals and other pipelines in and around Indiana and Michigan. Because Wolverine transports refined petroleum, a hazardous liquid, the company is subject to safety standards, 49 U.S.C. 60101, and falls into the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) regulatory orbit. A few years ago, PHMSA conducted a routine inspection of Wolverine’s records, procedures, and facilities and identified several issues. PHMSA sent Wolverine a Notice of Probable Violation, which acts as an informal charging document, and described nine potential violations of PHMSA’s regulations, including a dent with metal loss on the topside of a pipe segment, with respect to which Wolverine did not meet an “immediate repair” requirement. Wolverine missed a 180-day repair requirement for other deficiencies.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a $65,800 civil penalty. The court rejected Wolverine’s arguments that PHMSA’s action was arbitrary and violated its due process rights. Wolverine had adequate notice and, to the extent Wolverine believes another approach would better achieve PHMSA’s desired policy outcomes, its argument is one for resolution by PHMSA. View "Wolverine Pipe Line Co. v. United States Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration" on Justia Law
Sierra Club v. Stanek
The Supreme Court dismissed this case involving permits issued in 2017 and 2018 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to four different swine confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), holding that current circumstances rendered moot the legal challenges brought by Sierra Club.In 2017, Husky Hogs LLC formulated a plan to rebuild and expand its CAFO. As part of the plan, the rebuild planners formed Prairie Dog Pork, LLC, which was granted a portion of Husky Hogs' property. Thereafter, KDHE granted each LLC a permit. Subsequently, the same group of landowners created two additional LLCs to further their growing capacities and were given permits from KDHE. Sierra Club brought this lawsuit alleging that the permits issued to the four CAFOs violated the surface water setback requirements of Kan. Stat. Ann. 65-1,180. The district court held that the permits were unlawful. The CAFOs appealed, and while the appeal was pending KDHE issued four new permits to the CAFOs reflecting new legal descriptions of the four facilities. The court of appeals remanded the case with directions to reinstate the 2017 and 2018 permits, which were no longer operational. The Supreme Court dismissed the case, holding that there was no longer any actual controversy concerning the 2017 and 2018 permits. View "Sierra Club v. Stanek" on Justia Law
South River Watershed Alliance, et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (“GDNR”) sued DeKalb County for violating the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). To resolve this suit, the parties agreed to a consent decree in 2011. Eight years later, South River Watershed Alliance, Inc. (“South River”) and J.E. sued DeKalb County for failing to follow the decree and violating the CWA. The CWA authorizes citizen suits for enforcement purposes, but such suits are not allowed when an “administrator or State has commenced and is diligently prosecuting a civil or criminal action . . . to require compliance with the standard, limitation, or order.” Thus, this case turned on whether the 2011 consent decree—along with the ongoing efforts of the EPA and GDNR to require compliance—constitutes diligent prosecution. The district court determined that South River’s suit was barred by the diligent prosecution bar. On appeal, South River argued for the opposite result and requests injunctive relief to ensure DeKalb County’s compliance. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that South River wants the current consent decree discarded in favor of a more muscular alternative. The fact that South River disagrees with the prosecution strategy undertaken by the EPA and GDNR, however, is not enough to prove that the EPA and GDNR have failed to diligently prosecute DeKalb County’s CWA violations. To the contrary, the record shows that the EPA and GDNR have been diligent, which means that South River’s suit is barred under 33 U.S.C. Section 1365(b)(1)(B). View "South River Watershed Alliance, et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia" on Justia Law
City of Wilmington, Delaware v. United States
Wilmington charges its residential and non-residential property owners a stormwater management fee, based on an estimation of each property’s contribution to stormwater runoff. Because a precise measure of the actual amount of stormwater pollution from each property is impossible, the city devised a methodology for approximating the runoff attributable to each property based on recommendations from an engineering firm. For non-residential properties, the city assesses the fee based on a formula comprised of four variables. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) owns five properties in Wilmington, comprising 270 acres, classified as vacant, and used to store dredged material. USACE disputed whether the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1323, waived its sovereign immunity with respect to this fee.The Federal Circuit affirmed a Claims Court holding that the fees are not reasonable service charges, allowable under the CWA. Wilmington did not explain how the vacant land use code corresponded to the runoff coefficients nor whether its stormwater class fairly captured variability in vacant parcels, given that only one parcel contains any paved surface. Wilmington’s methodology, as applied, led to charges that are not a fair approximation of the properties’ proportionate contribution to stormwater pollution. View "City of Wilmington, Delaware v. United States" on Justia Law
Barajas v. Satvia L.A. County Water Dist.
The Sativa Water District was created in 1938 under the County Water District Law to provide potable drinking water to the residents living in a neighborhood in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook and parts of the City of Compton within Los Angeles County. On July 9, 2018, four named individuals— (collectively, Plaintiffs)—filed a putative class action lawsuit against the Sativa Water District. The Sativa Water District moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ entire lawsuit. Following a briefing, a hearing, and supplemental briefing, the trial court granted the motion. Plaintiffs asserted that the trial court erred in (1) granting the Sativa Water District’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, (2) denying Plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the order dismissing the County as a defendant, and (3) decertifying their class as to the nuisance claim. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that the Reorganization Act grants a LAFCO discretion whether to permit a district to wind up its own affairs or whether instead to appoint a successor agency responsible for doing so. Because the LAFCO, in this case, took the latter route, Plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit against the dissolved district must be dismissed. The court further concluded that the trial court’s dismissal of the successor agency was proper because Legislature expressly granted civil immunity to that agency. View "Barajas v. Satvia L.A. County Water Dist." on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
In 2019, the United States Forest Service (“FS”) issued a Record of Decision (“ROD”) authorizing livestock grazing for 10 years on land in the Upper Green River Area Rangeland (“UGRA”) in Wyoming. Two sets of petitioners-appellants, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club (collectively, “CBD”) and Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for Wile Rockies and Yellowstone to Unitas Connection (collectively “WWP”) challenged the UGRA Project under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”), and the Administrative Procedures Act. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded: (1) the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failures in the Biological Opinion to consider certain impacts the UGRA would have on female grizzly bears was arbitrary and capricious, but that the Opinion’s reliance on certain conservation measures was not; and (2) the Forest Service’s reliance on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion was arbitrary and capricious. As to WWP’s NFMA claims, the Court determined the ROD’s failure to consider the adequacy of forage and cover for migratory birds in the Project area was arbitrary and capricious. The Court remanded without vacated to the agencies to address deficiencies identified. View "Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency
Sackett began backfilling an Idaho lot with dirt to build a home. The Environmental Protection Agency informed Sackett that the property contained wetlands and that the backfilling violated the Clean Water Act, which prohibits discharging pollutants into “the waters of the United States,” 33 U.S.C. 1362(7). The EPA ordered Sackett to restore the site, threatening penalties of over $40,000 per day. The EPA classified the Sacket wetlands as “waters of the United States” because they were near a ditch that fed into a creek, which fed into Priest Lake, a navigable, intrastate lake. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the EPA.The Supreme Court reversed. CWA jurisdiction over an adjacent wetland requires that the adjacent body of water constitutes waters of the United States (a relatively permanent body of water connected to traditional interstate navigable waters) and a continuous surface connection between the wetland and that water, making it difficult to determine where the ‘water’ ends and the ‘wetland’ begins.”The Court reviewed the history of judicial interpretation of “the waters of the United States” and enforcement by federal agencies, which argued that the significant-nexus test was sufficient to establish jurisdiction over “adjacent” wetlands. Under that test, nearly all waters and wetlands are potentially susceptible to regulation, “putting a staggering array of landowners at risk of criminal prosecution for such mundane activities as moving dirt.” The CWA’s use of “waters” encompasses only relatively permanent, standing, or continuously flowing bodies, ordinarily called streams, oceans, rivers, and lakes. Wetlands qualify as “waters of the United States” only if “indistinguishable from waters of the United States,” having a continuous surface connection to bodies that are waters of the United States in their own right, with no clear demarcation between waters and wetlands. View "Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law