Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's interlocutory orders in an action brought by plaintiffs, an environment organization and individual plaintiffs, alleging climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government continuing to "permit, authorize, and subsidize" fossil fuel. In this case, a substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. The panel first rejected the government's contention that plaintiffs' claim must proceed, if at all, under the Administrative Procedure Act. Although plaintiffs had concrete and particularized injuries and the district court properly found the Article III causation requirement satisfied, the panel reluctantly concluded that plaintiffs' injuries were not redressable by an Article III court. The panel held that it was beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement plaintiffs' requested remedial plan. Rather, the panel stated that plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. View "Juliana v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Rio Grande was one of only a handful of rivers that created critical habitat for plants, animals, and humans. “And it is a fact of life that not enough water exists to meet the competing needs.” Recognizing these multiple uses, Congress has authorized the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain a balance between the personal, commercial, and agricultural needs of the people in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley and the competing needs of the plants and animals. WildEarth Guardians claimed the Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the needs of two endangered species that live along the river: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow. The group filed suit under the Endangered Species Act, arguing the Army Corps of Engineers failed to exercise its discretion and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about alternative water management policies that would help protect these species. The district court concluded the Army Corps of Engineers was not authorized by the statute to allocate additional water to species’ needs and therefore was not required to consult with FWS. Finding no error in the district court’s reasoning, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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At issue was the promulgation of a novel rule by the Washington Department of Ecology addressing climate change. Specifically, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Washington Clean Air Act granted the Department broad authority to establish and enforce greenhouse gas emission standards for businesses and utilities that did not directly emit greenhouse gases, but whose products ultimately did. The Department claimed and exercised such authority in promulgating the rule at issue. The Supreme Court held that by its plain language and structure, the Act limited the applicability of emissions standards to actual emitters. "Ecology's attempt to expand the scope of emission standards to regulate nonemitters therefore exceeds the regulatory authority granted by the Legislature." The Court invalidated the Rule to the extent that it exceeded the Department's regulatory authority, while recognizing the Department could continue to enforce the Rule in its authorized applications to actual emitters. View "Ass'n of Wash. Bus. v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law

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The General Land Office challenged both the Service's listing of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler as an endangered species in 1990 and, about 26 years later, the Service's denial of a petition seeking to delist the Warbler. The Fifth Circuit held that the General Land Office's challenge to the Service's decision to list was untimely. The court held that the Service did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act or its implementing regulations when it declined to delist the Warbler, and thus the district court correctly granted the Service's motion to dismiss. However, the court agreed with the General Land Office that the Service applied the incorrect heightened standard when reviewing the delisting petition. Therefore, the court held that the Service's decision denying the delisting petition was arbitrary and capricious, and vacated the decision, remanding for further proceedings. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "General Land Office of the State of Texas v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The United States sought to enjoin the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe and several individual members from selling hunting and fishing licenses that authorized members to take wildlife from the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe was not a federally recognized Indian tribe, but it nonetheless claimed to have tribal rights, including hunting and fishing rights, related to the Reservation. The district court held the Tribe had no authority to issue licenses. The court, however, declined to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the issuance of future licenses against both the individual defendants and the Tribe. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe lacks authority to issue hunting and fishing licenses, and found the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to issue a permanent injunction. View "United States v. Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the Board's award of a permit for construction of a compressor station on behalf of ACP in the historic community of Union Hill. The compression station is one of three stations planned to support the transmission of natural gas through ACP's 600-mile pipeline. The Fourth Circuit held that the Board erred in failing to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines in the compressor station. The court also held that the Board erred in failing to assess the compressor station's potential for disproportionate health impacts on the predominantly African-American community of Union Hill, and in failing to independently evaluate the suitability of that site. Accordingly, the court vacated the permit and remanded for the Board to make findings with regard to conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the compressor station. View "Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board" on Justia Law

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CBD filed suit seeking to compel the Department of the Interior to reinstate the Refuges Rule that prevented Alaska from applying certain state hunting regulations on federal wildlife refuges. In 2017, Congress used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to order Interior to rescind the regulation. The Ninth Circuit held that CBD lacked standing to challenge the Reenactment Provision, because it failed to allege an injury in fact that was more than speculative. Therefore, the panel dismissed CBD's argument that the Reenactment Clause violated the nondelegation doctrine. After determining that the Jurisdiction-Stripping Provision of the CRA did not include any explicit language barring judicial review of constitutional claims, the panel held that the Joint Resolution disapproving the Refuges Rule did not violate the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, and thus CBD's complaint failed to state a claim that was plausible on its face. The panel rejected CBD's argument that the CRA and Joint Resolution violated separation-of-powers principles because they interfere with the Executive Branch's duty under the Take Care Clause. The panel held that, because Congress properly enacted the Joint Resolution, and therefore validly amended Interior's authority to administer national wildlife refuges in Alaska, Congress did not prevent the President from exercising his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. The panel joined other circuits in holding that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over statutory claims that arise under the CRA. In this case, CBD challenged Interior's rescission of the Refuges Rule solely on the ground that Congress did not validly enact the Joint Resolution. Therefore, the panel held that CBD's claim necessarily involved a challenge to a congressional "determination, finding, action or omission" under the CRA, and was therefore subject to the Jurisdiction-Stripping Provision. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Commercial-fishing associations challenged the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was established by President Obama to protect distinct geological features and unique ecological resources in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The district court concluded that the President acted within his statutory authority in creating the Monument, dismissing the Fishermen's claims. The DC Circuit first drew a distinction between two types of claims: those justiciable on the face of the proclamation and those requiring factual development. The court determined that the Fishermens' first three claims could be judged on the face of the proclamation and resolved as a matter of law, and the last claim required factual allegations. As to the first three claims, the court held that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the Fishermens' contention that the Antiquities Act does not reach submerged lands; ocean-based monuments are compatible with the Sanctuaries Act; and the federal government's unrivaled authority under both international and domestic law established that it controls the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. Finally, the court held that the Fishermens' smallest-area claim failed, because the complaint contained no factual allegations identifying a portion of the Monument that lacks the natural resources and ecosystems the President sought to protect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to accurately estimate the amount of Reactive Organic Gas (ROG) emissions and to adopt all feasible mitigation measures. The challenge arises from the approval of a geothermal plant to be located on fedeal land in Mono County, California. Petitioners also claimed the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District) was not the proper lead agency to undertake preparation of the EIR. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the District was the proper lead agency, and that the permit limiting the daily ROG emissions was sufficient evidence of the amount of the emissions. However, the Court determined the District did not adequately analyze whether the additional mitigation measures proposed by petitioners were feasible to limit ROG emissions. Therefore, the Court reversed the part of the judgment relating to the District’s consideration of the proposed mitigation measures, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Covington v. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Dist." on Justia Law

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A constructive submission will be found where a state has failed over a long period of time to submit a "total maximum daily loads" (TMDL), and clearly and unambiguously decided not to submit any TMDL. Where a state has failed to develop and issue a particular TMDL for a prolonged period of time, and has failed to develop a schedule and credible plan for producing that TMDL, it has no longer simply failed to prioritize this obligation. Instead, there has been a constructive submission of no TMDL, which triggers the EPA's mandatory duty to act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for environmental groups in a citizen suit brought under the Clean Water Act, seeking to compel the EPA to develop and issue a long-overdue temperature TMDL for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The panel held that Washington and Oregon have clearly and unambiguously decided not to produce and issue a temperature TMDL for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Therefore, the EPA was obligated to act under section 1313(d)(2) of the Act. View "Columbia Riverkeeper v. Wheeler" on Justia Law