Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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In these consolidated actions, petitioners challenged the EPA's 2014 final rule, which exempted coal- and oil-burning power plant utility boilers' startup periods from numerical limits on hazardous air pollutants. EPA instead imposed qualitative "work practice" standards during these periods. The DC Circuit held that EPA erred in denying the petition for reconsideration and granted the petition in No. 16-1349 because it was impracticable for petitioners to raise their two objections during the notice-and-comment period and the objections were of central relevance to the final rule. Consequently, the court did not reach the merits of the arguments in No. 15-1015. View "Chesapeake Climate Action Network v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Canyon Crest filed suit challenging the approval of a conditional use permit and an oak tree permit granted to real party in interest Stephen Kuhn. Canyon Crest, a nonprofit organization established by Kuhn's immediate neighbors, alleged that defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by granting the permits. Kuhn subsequently requested that the county vacate the permit approvals, because he could not afford to continue the litigation. Canyon Crest then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that Canyon Crest failed to establish any of the requirements for a right to fees under the statute. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the litigation did not enforce an important right affecting the public interest. Furthermore, Canyon Crest failed to establish that this action conferred a significant benefit on the general public. View "Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) brought a civil enforcement action under the Environmental Protection and Health Act against David Gibson and VHS Properties, LLC, (“VHS”), for illegally operating a composting facility. After a three-day bench trial, the district court determined that Gibson was operating a “Tier II Solid Waste Processing Facility” without prior approval from DEQ. The district court assessed a civil penalty and issued an injunction. On appeal, Gibson raised a number of issues regarding DEQ’s authority to regulate compost and its inspection of the property. DEQ argued Gibson’s appeal was partially time-barred. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court held that although Gibson’s appeal was not time-barred, he failed to show error. Therefore, it affirmed the district court. View "DEQ v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court closing certification case, holding that the Water Court did not err in its rulings. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court did not err (1) in its determination of the water rights claims that had historically used the Gibson-Reinig Ditch and the characteristics of those rights; (2) by creating a junior implied claim to account for the parties' historic use of the capacity of the Gibson-Reinig Ditch; (3) in its determination of the priority date for claim 97014-00; (4) by finding that the unauthorized water use by David and Teri Hoon and Betty and Gary Murphy was irrelevant to the proceedings; and (5) by separately decreeing the interest of Michael and Lisa Bay. View "Hoon v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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Defendants County of Sacramento and the County Board of Supervisors (the County) approved Cordova Hills, a large master planned community comprised of residential and commercial uses and including a university (the Project). Plaintiffs Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Sierra Club (Environmental Council) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the Project, which the trial court denied. Environmental Council appealed, contending the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) contained a legally inadequate project description, an inadequate environmental impact analysis, failed to analyze impacts to land use, and the County failed to adopt feasible mitigation measures. Central to the Environmental Council’s appeal was the contention that the university was not likely to be built, and since the EIR assumed the buildout of a university, it was deficient in failing to analyze the Project without a university. We shall affirm the judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s assessment, that the County, in drafting the EIR, was required to assume all phases of the Project, including the university, would be built. The Court affirmed the trial court in all respects. View "Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Roadless Rule, which the Forest Service adopted in 2012, prohibits road construction in designated areas but included an exception for the North Fork Coal Mining Area (the “North Fork Exception”). In prior litigation, a district court concluded agency decisions violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and vacated the North Fork Exception. Following these decisions, the Forest Service prepared a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“North Fork SFEIS”) and readopted the Exception, Roadless Area Conservation. Mountain Coal Company, LLC, submitted lease modification requests in connection with coal leases in the area. In response, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“Leasing SFEIS”) and approved the requests. In the lawsuit that followed, a coalition of environmental organizations alleged the agencies violated NEPA and the APA by unreasonably eliminating alternatives from detailed study in the North Fork SFEIS and the Leasing SFEIS. The district court rejected these challenges. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed as to the North Fork SFEIS, holding that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to study in detail the “Pilot Knob Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. Accordingly, the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate the North Fork Exception. With respect to the Leasing SFEIS, the Tenth Circuit held NEPA did not require consideration of the “Methane Flaring Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. View "High Country Conservation v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Board's approval of an ordinance to streamline the permitting process for new oil and gas wells and certification of an environmental report (EIR) as compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court found that the EIR inadequately analyzed the project's environmental impacts to rangeland and from a road paving mitigation measure, and rejected the other CEQA claims. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed CEQA violations involving water, agricultural land, and noise. In regard to water supplies, the court held that the mitigation measures for the project's significant impacts to water supplies inappropriately deferred formulation of the measures or delayed the actual implementation of the measures. Furthermore, the EIR's disclosures about the mitigation measures were inadequate and thus the adoption of a statement of overriding considerations did not render harmless these failures to comply with CEQA. The court also held that the project's conversion of agricultural land would be mitigated to a less than significant level is not supported by substantial evidence. Finally, in regard to the project's noise impacts, the court held that the EIR did not include an analysis, supported by substantial evidence, explaining why the magnitude of an increase in ambient noise need not be addressed to determine the significance of the project's noise impact. View "King and Gardiner Farms, LLC v. County of Kern" on Justia Law