Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries
Sierra Club v. EPA
The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review involved an interpretation of an environmental regulation addressing the renewal of permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. The statute and accompanying regulation allowed renewal of these permits only if they ensured “compliance with” all of the “applicable requirements.” The term “applicable requirements” was defined in the regulation, but not the statute. The Sierra Club interpreted the regulatory definition to require compliance with all existing statutory requirements; the EPA interpretd the regulatory definition more narrowly, arguing that the applicability of certain requirements was determined by the state permit issued under a separate part of the Clean Air Act (Title I). The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Sierra Club’s interpretation: the regulatory definition of “applicable requirements” included all requirements in the state’s implementation plan, and Utah’s implementation plan broadly required compliance with the Clean Air Act. So, the Court concluded, all of the Act’s requirements constituted “applicable requirements” under the regulation. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law
American Wild Horse Campaign v. Bernhardt
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action alleging that the BLM's geld and release plan for wild horses violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The panel held that the BLM did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it chose to geld and release some of the male horses that would otherwise be permanently removed. The panel also held that the BLM permissibly determined that the intensity factors, whether considered individually or collectively, did not show that the Gather Plan would have a significant effect on the environment; the BLM considered and addressed the relevant factor that the Gelding Study raised and explained why additional information was not available, which meets NEPA's "hard look" standard; the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act does not require the BLM to discuss explicitly all expert opinions submitted during the public-comment period; and by addressing the concerns and factors that the NAS Report raised, the BLM complied with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act's requirement that the BLM "consult" the National Academy of Sciences. View "American Wild Horse Campaign v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law
Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County
Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law
Nat’l Parks Conservation Assn., et al. v. ND Dept. of Env. Quality, et al.
National Parks Conservation Association (“NPCA”) appealed a judgment affirming a final permit decision by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, formerly the Department of Health Environmental Health Section, to issue Meridian Energy Group, Inc. an air quality permit to construct a refinery. In October 2016, Meridian submitted its initial application and supporting documentation to the Department for a permit to construct the Davis Refinery, as required under North Dakota’s air pollution control rules implementing the federal Clean Air Act. The Department received over 10,000 comments, with most of the substantive comments coming from NPCA, the National Park Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. NPCA filed comments with the Department supported by its two experts’ opinions, asserting that Meridian’s oil refinery would be a “major source,” rather than a “minor source,” of air pollution and that the permit does not contain “practically enforceable” emissions limits under the federal Clean Air Act and North Dakota’s air pollution control rules implementing the Clean Air Act. After considering public comments and Meridian’s responses, the Department’s Air Quality Division recommended to the State Health Officer that the Department issue a final permit because the Davis Refinery’s emissions are expected to comply with the applicable North Dakota air pollution control rules. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Department did not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably in issuing the permit. View "Nat'l Parks Conservation Assn., et al. v. ND Dept. of Env. Quality, et al." on Justia Law
California v. Trump
The Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2019 does not authorize the Department of Defense (DoD) to make budgetary transfers from funds appropriated by Congress to it for other purposes in order to fund the construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States in California and New Mexico. The Ninth Circuit first held that California and New Mexico have Article III standing to pursue their claims because they have alleged that the actions of the Federal Defendants will cause particularized and concrete injuries in fact to the environment and wildlife of their respective states as well as to their sovereign interests in enforcing their environmental laws; California has alleged environmental and sovereign injuries "fairly traceable" to the Federal Defendants' conduct; and a ruling in California and New Mexico's favor would redress their harms. Furthermore, California and New Mexico easily fall within the zone of interests of Section 8005 of the Act and are suitable challengers to enforce its obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act. The panel held that the district court correctly determined that Section 8005 did not authorize DoD's budgetary transfer to fund construction of the El Paso and El Centro Sectors. The panel explained that the district court correctly determined that the border wall was not an unforeseen military requirement, that funding for the wall had been denied by Congress, and therefore, that the transfer authority granted by Section 8005 was not permissibly invoked. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's judgment, declining to reverse the district court’s decision against imposing a permanent injunction, without prejudice to renewal. View "California v. Trump" on Justia Law
Sierra Club v. Trump
Section 8005 and Section 9002 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2019 does not authorize the Department of Defense's budgetary transfers to fund construction of the wall on the southern border of the United States in California, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Ninth Circuit first held that Sierra Club and SBCC have established that their members satisfy the demands of Article III standing to challenge the Federal Defendants' actions. In this case, Sierra Club's thousands of members live near and frequently visit these areas along the U.S.-Mexico border to do a variety of activities; the construction of a border wall and related infrastructure will acutely injure their interests because DHS is proceeding with border wall construction without ensuring compliance with any federal or state environmental regulations designed to protect these interests; and the interests of Sierra Club's members in this lawsuit are germane to the organization's purpose. Furthermore, SBCC has alleged facts that support that it has standing to sue on behalf of itself and its member organizations. Sierra Club and SBCC have also shown that their injuries are fairly traceable to the challenged action of the Federal Defendants, and their injuries are likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. The panel held that neither Section 8005 nor any constitutional provision authorized DoD to transfer the funds at issue. The panel reaffirmed its holding in State of California, et al. v. Trump, et al., Nos. 19-16299 and 19-16336, slip op. at 37 (9th Cir. filed June 26, 2020), holding that Section 8005 did not authorize the transfer of funds at issue here because "the border wall was not an unforeseen military requirement," and "funding for the wall had been denied by Congress." The panel also held that Sierra Club was a proper party to challenge the Section 8005 transfers and that Sierra Club has both a constitutional and an ultra vires cause of action here. The panel explained that the Federal Defendants not only exceeded their delegated authority, but also violated an express constitutional prohibition designed to protect individual liberties. The panel considered the Federal Defendants' additional arguments, holding that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is not to be construed as an exclusive remedy, and the APA does not displace all constitutional and equitable causes of action, and Sierra Club falls within the Appropriations Clause's zone of interests. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Sierra Club a permanent injunction enjoining the federal defendants from spending the funds at issue. View "Sierra Club v. Trump" on Justia Law
Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California
The California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000; CEQA) requires public universities to mitigate the environmental impacts of their growth and development, including student enrollment increases. To ensure that the University of California “sufficiently mitigate significant off-campus impacts related to campus growth and development,” the University is required periodically to develop a comprehensive, long-range development plan for each campus, based on the academic goals and projected enrollment. (Ed. Code 67504(a)(1).) The plan must be analyzed in an environmental impact report (EIR). A 2005 EIR that analyzed a development plan and projected enrollment increases for the U.C. Berkeley campus. Opponents claimed the University violated CEQA by increasing enrollment well beyond the growth projected in the 2005 EIR without conducting any further environmental review. The trial court ruled in favor of the University. The court of appeal reversed. Section 21080.09 does not shield public universities from complying with CEQA when they make discretionary decisions to increase enrollment levels. Opponents adequately pled that respondents made substantial changes to the original project that trigger the need for a subsequent or supplemental EIR. The court stated that its decision did not constitute an enrollment “cap.” View "Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law
Greene v. Westfield Insurance Co.
VIM opened its Elkhart wood recycling facility around 2000. By 2009 1,025 neighbors filed a class-action lawsuit, describing VIM’s site as littered with massive, unbounded outdoor waste piles and alleging that VIM processed old, dry wood outside, which violated environmental regulations; constituted an eyesore; attracted mosquitos, termites, and rodents; posed a fire hazard; and emitted dust and other pollution. Many neighbors alleged health problems. In the meantime, VIM acquired general commercial liability policies, running from 2004-2008, that obligated Westfield to pay up to $2 million of any judgments against VIM for “property damage” or “bodily injury.” Each policy required VIM “as soon as practicable” to notify Westfield of any occurrence or offense that “may result in” a claim. Upon the filing of a claim, the policies required that VIM to provide written notice. There were three separate lawsuits over the course of 10 years. VIM sometimes successfully fended off the claims but sometimes did nothing, resulting in a $50.56 million default judgment. In a garnishment action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Westfield. The neighbors cannot credibly claim that VIM was unaware of the injuries before 2004 or that they would not reasonably have expected them to continue through 2008, so the notice requirements applied. Westfield only found out about the case from its own lawyer in 2010, while it was on appeal. View "Greene v. Westfield Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Stanford Vina Ranch Irrigation Co. v. State of Cal.
Stanford Vina Ranch Irrigation Company (Stanford Vina) sued the California Water Resources Control Board (the Board), among other defendants, challenging the Board’s issuance of certain temporary emergency regulations in 2014 and 2015, during the height of one of the most severe droughts in California’s history. The challenged regulations established minimum flow requirements on three tributaries of the Sacramento River, including Deer Creek in Tehama County, in order to protect two threatened species of anadromous fish, Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, during their respective migratory cycles. Furthermore, Stanford Vina challenged the Board’s implementation of those regulations by issuing temporary curtailment orders limiting the company’s diversion of water from Deer Creek for certain periods of time during those years in order to maintain the required minimum flow of water. Judgment was entered in favor of the Board and other defendants. Stanford Vina appealed. Finding the Board possessed broad authority to regulate the unreasonable use of water in California by various means, including the adoption of regulations establishing minimum flow requirements protecting the migration of threatened fish species during drought conditions and declaring diversions of water unreasonable where such diversions would threaten to cause the flow of water in the creeks in question to drop below required levels, the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Board’s adoption of the challenged regulations was not arbitrary, capricious, or lacking in evidentiary support, nor did the Board fail to follow required procedures, and the Court declined to override the Board’s determination as to reasonableness set forth in the regulations. View "Stanford Vina Ranch Irrigation Co. v. State of Cal." on Justia Law
Alford v. United States
Water levels in Eagle Lake, near Vicksburg, are controlled by the Muddy Bayou Control Structure, part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River flood control program. Eagle Lake's predictable water levels allowed the plaintiffs to build piers, boathouses, and docks. In 2010, the Corps determined that “sand boils” threatened the stability of the nearby Mississippi River Mainline Levee, a component of the same flood-control program. Unusually wet weather in 2011 exacerbated the problem. The Corps declared an emergency, finding that the rise in nearby water levels threatened the structural integrity of the levee and “that the likelihood of breach was over 95%.” The Corps decided to flood Eagle Lake to reduce pressures along the levee. Because of that action, the levee did not breach. A breach would have resulted in widespread flooding affecting “about a million acres and possibly between four thousand to six thousand homes and businesses.” The damage to the plaintiffs’ properties would have exceeded the damage caused by raising the lake level. The plaintiffs sued, seeking compensation. The Federal Circuit reversed the Claims Court’s finding that the government was liable and award of $168,000 in compensatory damages. The relative benefits doctrine bars liability. The plaintiffs were better off as a result of the Corps’ actions. If the government had not raised the water level, the levee would almost certainly have breached, and the plaintiffs would have suffered more damage. View "Alford v. United States" on Justia Law