Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves a challenge to a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reinstate a waiver granted to California under the Clean Air Act. The waiver allows California to set its own standards for automobile emissions, which are stricter than federal standards. The petitioners, a group of states and fuel industry entities, argued that the EPA's decision was not authorized under the Clean Air Act and violated a constitutional requirement that the federal government treat states equally in terms of their sovereign authority.The lower courts had upheld the EPA's decision, finding that the petitioners lacked standing to challenge the decision. The petitioners appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that the fuel industry petitioners lacked standing to raise their statutory claim, and that the state petitioners lacked standing to raise their preemption claim, because neither group had demonstrated that their claimed injuries would be redressed by a favorable decision by the court. The court also rejected the state petitioners' constitutional claim on the merits, holding that the EPA's decision did not violate the constitutional requirement of equal sovereignty among the states. View "Ohio v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In this case, a government agency had approved a license to construct and operate a massive deepwater oil facility off the coast of Texas. Several environmental organizations alleged that the approval was unreasonable, arguing that the agency failed to adequately support its decision with a thorough environmental impact analysis. The groups claimed this was in violation of the Deepwater Port Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. They contended that the agency's approval was arbitrary or capricious. The environmental organizations asserted that operating the facility would produce emissions equivalent to more than 80 new coal-fired power plants and could increase the likelihood of mass oil spills along miles of the Texas coastline. They also voiced concerns about potential threats to the Gulf's marine environment.After their concerns were initially dismissed by the agency overseeing the project, the environmental organizations appealed the licensing decision. They claimed the agency had not conducted the appropriate level of review in its environmental impact statement and had not followed relevant statutory provisions during the approval process.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the agency had adequately considered the environmental consequences of the facility before approving its deepwater port license. The court found that the agency's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, and as such, it denied the petition for review brought by the environmental organizations. The court ruled that the agency had taken a "hard look" at the environmental consequences of the project, provided sufficient detail for the public to understand and consider the relevant environmental influences, and evaluated alternatives in a way that permitted a reasoned choice among different courses of action. View "Citizens for Clean Air & Clean Water in Brazoria County v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The case involves a petition by Inhance Technologies, L.L.C. against orders issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Inhance, a company that has been fluorinating plastic containers since 1983, was charged by the EPA for violating a Significant New Use Rule regarding long-chain perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) due to the presence of PFAS in an insecticide stored in a container fluorinated by Inhance. PFAS are long-lasting chemicals found in various products and have been linked to several health issues. The EPA issued two orders under Section 5 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), prohibiting Inhance from manufacturing or processing PFAS during its fluorination process. Inhance claimed that if the orders were enforced, they would shutdown their fluorination process and bankrupt the company.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Inhance, stating that the EPA exceeded its statutory authority by issuing the orders. The court held that Inhance's decades-old fluorination process could not be deemed a "significant new use" under Section 5 of TSCA. The court vacated the EPA's orders and noted that the EPA could regulate Inhance's fluorination process under Section 6 of TSCA, which requires a cost-benefit analysis for ongoing uses. The court's ruling was based on the interpretation of the term "new" in TSCA, the statutory framework, and the requirement for agencies to provide fair notice of their rules. View "Inhance Technologies v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, the Montana Environmental Information Center sued the Montana Department of Public Service Regulation, Public Service Commission, and Northwestern Corporation, also known as Northwestern Energy. The plaintiff contested Northwestern's failure to purchase energy from Community Renewable Energy Project (CREP) resources in 2015 and 2016. Northwestern, which is a public utility, had obtained waivers from the Commission for these obligations. The plaintiff claimed that Northwestern’s waivers were granted erroneously and sought penalties for Northwestern’s non-compliance.The District Court reversed the Commission's decision, concluding that Northwestern hadn't taken all reasonable steps to procure CREP resources for the years in question. The court also assessed a $2,519,800 penalty against Northwestern. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana held that the District Court correctly reversed the Commission's waiver for 2015, but made an error in assessing the penalty. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision in part, vacated it in part, and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings. The court directed the District Court to remand the case to the Commission to assess the penalty against Northwestern for its non-compliance in 2015 and, if applicable, 2016. View "Montana Environmental Information Center v. Northwestern Energy" on Justia Law

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Gold Coast Commodities, Inc., a company that converts used cooking oil and vegetable by-products into animal feed ingredients, was insured under a policy by Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America. The policy included a pollution exclusion clause. During the policy period, the City of Brandon and the City of Jackson filed suits against Gold Coast, alleging that the company dumped corrosive, high-temperature wastewater into their respective sewer systems, causing damage. Travelers denied coverage for these claims, citing the policy's pollution exclusion clause. Gold Coast appealed this decision, arguing that Travelers had a duty to defend them in these lawsuits and reimburse them for their defense costs.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the lower court's decision, finding that the claims against Gold Coast were clearly and unambiguously excluded from coverage based on the policy's pollution exclusion. The court noted that the pollution exclusion clause was not ambiguous in this context, as there was no reasonable interpretation of the wastewater's form or qualities that would conclude that it was not an irritant or contaminant, as defined in the policy.The court concluded that because the claims fell outside the policy's coverage, Travelers had no duty to defend or indemnify Gold Coast and its principals in relation to the lawsuits brought against them by the City of Brandon and the City of Jackson. Therefore, the court affirmed the decision of the district court, which had denied Gold Coast's motions for partial judgment on the pleadings and had granted Travelers' motion for partial summary judgment. View "Gold Coast Commodities, Inc. v. Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over the management plan for the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) in Colorado, particularly its impact on the Canada lynx, a species listed as threatened. The United States Forest Service (USFS), tasked with managing the RGNF, revised its Land Management Plan in response to a significant spruce beetle epidemic. The revised plan was assessed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), to consider the plan's effects on the Canada lynx. FWS issued a Biological Opinion in 2021 concluding that the plan would not likely jeopardize the lynx's continued existence. The Defenders of Wildlife contested this conclusion, arguing that the Biological Opinion violated the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and that USFS improperly relied on the opinion in preparing the plan.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Defenders’ petition. The Court held that FWS did not violate the ESA or the APA in its assessment, and that USFS appropriately relied on FWS's conclusions. The Court noted that the FWS had reasonably considered all relevant data, including information about the Canada lynx subpopulation in Colorado, and had made a reasoned decision based on this data. The Court also found that the FWS adequately addressed the potential impact of the plan on both low-use and high-use lynx habitats. The Court concluded that because the FWS's actions were not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law, the USFS did not act arbitrarily in relying on the Biological Opinion. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHA), an Indian nation of three affiliated tribes, appealed the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval of eight applications for oil drilling by the Slawson Exploration Company, Inc. next to Lake Sakakawea, MHA's sole source of drinking water. MHA challenged the approvals under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that BLM's approval of the project was arbitrary and capricious due to an insufficient record and by precluding MHA from further developing the record about the threat the project posed to MHA's health and welfare.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to BLM and Slawson, dismissing the case with prejudice. The court found that BLM had engaged in reasoned decision-making and had evaluated all relevant factors. It noted that the agency placed the responsibility on Slawson to comply with tribal law without impeding MHA's ability as a sovereign to enforce its laws. The court also found that BLM's decision not to evaluate tribal law did not impact tribal sovereignty. The court concluded that MHA's jurisdiction over Slawson's project was not a relevant factor to the approvals and therefore further development of the record was not required.Furthermore, the court found that MHA was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing as there was no dispute of material fact and MHA had adequate opportunities to submit evidence. Therefore, the court ruled that MHA had received all process required by the Constitution, laws, and agency regulation. View "Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between the American Forest Resource Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the designation of critical habitat for an endangered species of spotted owl. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service originally issued a proposed rule reducing the amount of land designated as critical habitat for the owl in the Pacific Northwest. However, after a change in presidential administrations, the Service reversed its decision and twice issued rules delaying the effective date of the proposed rule.The Council challenged the validity of the delay rules, but after the rules had expired, the district court determined the plaintiffs’ claims had become moot and dismissed the case. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the lower court's decision, affirming the judgment of the district court.The court concluded that the Council’s lawsuit against the Service was moot because both delay rules had expired and had no continuing effect. The court also rejected the Council’s claim that their case fell under the exception to mootness for matters “capable of repetition yet evading review,” as they failed to provide evidence that they would be subjected to another Service delay rule in the future. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, finding the case to be moot. View "American Forest Resource Council v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Safety-Kleen of California, Inc. appealed against the denial of its petitions for a writ of mandate, which sought to compel the Department of Toxic Substances Control (the Department) to set aside final inspection violation scores concerning Safety-Kleen’s oil and hazardous waste treatment facility. The Department had classified certain violations at Safety-Kleen’s facility as Class I violations, which Safety-Kleen argued was an abuse of discretion under the Hazardous Waste Control Law (HWCL), as these violations did not pose a “significant threat to human health or safety or the environment.”The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District disagreed with Safety-Kleen, interpreting the HWCL to permit classification of a violation as Class I under independent statutory bases, including those that do not pose a significant threat to human health or safety or the environment. The court held that the Department did not abuse its discretion in determining Safety-Kleen’s final inspection violation scores. It also rejected Safety-Kleen’s argument that a Class II violation can only be reclassified as a Class I violation if the violation is chronic or the violator is recalcitrant. The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court. View "Safety-Kleen of Cal., Inc. v. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to call for revisions to State Implementation Plans (SIPs) under the Clean Air Act because of the SIPs' inclusion of certain provisions related to emissions during startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM) periods. Two sets of petitioners, a group of states and a set of companies, challenged the EPA's decision. The court granted their petitions in part and denied them in part.The court ruled that EPA could not call the SIPs for including automatic exemptions and director’s discretion provisions without finding that it was necessary or appropriate for these restrictions to qualify as emission limitations under the Clean Air Act. The EPA had failed to make such a necessary or appropriate finding.As for affirmative defense provisions, the court agreed with petitioners as to certain types of affirmative defense provisions but rejected petitioners’ challenge as to other types.The court upheld EPA's call of overbroad enforcement discretion provisions on the grounds that they could be read to allow state officials to foreclose EPA enforcement actions and citizen suits.The court concluded that when EPA calls a SIP for a substantial legal inadequacy, it need only identify the deficiency and explain why it is substantial. The Act does not categorically require EPA to assess costs and benefits when calling SIPs for failure to comply with the Act’s legal requirements. View "Environ Comm FL Elec Power v. EPA" on Justia Law