Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Clean Water Act (CWA), alleging that Corona Clay illegally discharged pollutants into the navigable waters of the United States, failed to monitor that discharge as required by its permit, and violated the conditions of the permit by failing to report violations. The district court granted partial summary judgment to defendants and a jury returned a defense verdict on the remaining claims.The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the district court's interpretation of Gwaltney of Smithfield, Ltd. v. Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 484 U.S. 49, 67 (1987), which held that the CWA bars citizen suits alleging only "wholly past" violations of permits, and held that if the required jurisdictional discharge into United States waters has occurred, a CWA citizen suit can be premised on ongoing or reasonably expected monitoring or reporting violations. The panel vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings in light of the Supreme Court's intervening decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, 140 S. Ct. 1462, 1468 (2020), which held that an offending discharge must reach the "waters of the United States," either through a direct discharge or a "functional equivalent." View "Inland Empire Waterkeeper v. Corona Clay Co." on Justia Law

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Environmental organizations challenged a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit issued by the EPA for Idaho Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) under the Clean Water Act. On CAFOs, manure is typically stored in lagoons; waste that leaks from lagoons can reach groundwater that can reach navigable waters. Since the 1970s, the EPA has regulated both CAFO production areas (animal confinement, storage, lagoons) and land-application areas (fields where manure and process wastewater are applied as fertilizer).The Ninth Circuit held that the challenge was timely, rejecting the EPA’s contention that the Permit largely relied on a 2003 Rule. The Permit lacked sufficient monitoring provisions to ensure compliance with the Permit’s “zero discharge” requirements for both production and land-application areas. EPA's discretion in crafting appropriate monitoring requirements for each NPDES permit is not unlimited. The Permit had sufficient monitoring requirements for above-ground discharges from production areas; CAFOs were required to perform daily inspections. The Permit had no monitoring provisions for underground discharges from production areas. While the Permit flatly prohibited discharges from land-application areas during dry weather it had no monitoring provisions, although the record showed that such discharges can occur during irrigation of fertilized CAFO fields. View "Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Department regulates the use of pesticides, including 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), which is used in agriculture. Only Dow produces 1,3-D for use in California As a condition of Dow’s continued registration of 1,3-D products, the Department maintains a “township cap program,” which limits the amount of the pesticide that may be used each year to reduce cancer risks to bystanders. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate, claiming that the township cap program was an underground regulation in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and fails to incorporate recommendations from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as required under the Food and Agriculture Code.The trial court granted summary judgment, declaring the township cap program void and directing the Department to engage in formal rulemaking to replace it. The court of appeal affirmed, agreeing that the program is an underground regulation. A regulation subject to the APA may exist even if the agency never promulgates a written policy setting forth the rule. The fact that Dow happens to be the only registrant of 1,3-D does not mean the Department can informally regulate the pesticide at will while its rules are implemented as conditions of Dow’s registration; the township cap program is a rule of general application. The program governs how 1,3-D will be used, not how the Department will register pesticides, and clearly implements and makes specific the law the Department administers. View "Vasquez v. Department of Pesticide Regulation" on Justia Law

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In this action for a temporary injunction in connection with the intake and discharge of water from the Long Island Sound and nearby bodies of water by Dominion Nuclear Connecticut, Inc., the owner and operator of a nuclear power station, the Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the judgments in favor of Defendants, holding that the trial court did not err.This case was before the Supreme Court for the third time. Plaintiff brought this action under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act of 1971 (CEPA), Conn. Gen. Stat. 22a-14 et seq., against Dominion and the Department of Environmental Protection, challenging the Department's decision to issue a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination system permit to Dominion to authorize the intake and discharge of water by the plant, arguing that the permit renewal proceeding was inadequate. On remand for the second time from the Supreme Court, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the administrative proceeding was not inadequate; and (2) Plaintiff's remaining claims on appeal were inadequately briefed. View "Burton v. Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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The environmental harm at the Indianapolis property developed over at least 50 years. Four adjacent properties have changed hands several times and have been used for manufacturing and industrial businesses that used degreasers and various chemical products. The solvents have degraded over time and have seeped into the groundwater and soil in the surrounding residential area. Investigations showed that vapors emitting from the underground contamination have intruded into homes and a local park. Major acquired the property in 2007 and has not released any hazardous materials.Von Duprin. whose predecessor once owned property in the area, undertook cleanup efforts and sought to recover some of those costs and future remediation costs. Von Duprin sued former and current owners and operators of the properties under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601. Current owners or operators of a site where hazardous materials were released may be held liable under CERCLA without having caused a release.The district court found that Von Duprin and two other former or current owners and operators in the area bore responsibility for portions of the environmental harm, then assigned liability among and between all three parties. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part but vacated the court’s threshold determination under section 107(a) of CERCLA that liability for remediating the environmental harm is divisible—capable of being apportioned on the basis of principles of causation—among and between the parties to this litigation. View "Von Duprin LLC v. Major Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Following a remand from the Vermont Supreme Court, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) denied petitioner’s request for a certificate of public good (CPG) to construct a 2.0 megawatt (MW) solar facility on Apple Hill in the Town of Bennington, Vermont. Petitioner appealed, arguing the PUC erred in: (1) denying its request to amend its petition; (2) concluding that the Bennington Town Plan and Bennington Regional Plan contained clear community standards and that the project would violate those standards; (3) applying the “modified Quechee” standard in the aesthetics analysis without having gone through rulemaking; (4) treating the provisions of the Bennington Town Plan as if they were binding zoning ordinances in violation of 24 V.S.A. 4413; (5) failing to consider the positive benefits of the project with respect to greenhouse-gas emissions in the contexts of its aesthetics analysis; and (6) applying vague and standardless tests in violation of its constitutional rights. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected significant portions of the PUC’s rationale for denying petitioner a CPG, therefore reversed and remanded for additional proceedings. View "In re Petition of Apple Hill Solar LLC" on Justia Law

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Justin and Maureen Savage (landowners) owned a 176-acre parcel of undeveloped land in a rural area near Cavendish, Vermont. Snowstone, LLC, sought to buy a portion of landowners’ property to operate a dimensional stone extraction project. After executing the contract, Snowstone requested a jurisdictional opinion from the Act 250 district coordinator to determine whether the project would need an Act 250 permit. A group of neighboring landowners (neighbors) filed comments, arguing that the project would require said permit. The district coordinator issued a jurisdictional opinion, concluding that the proposed project needed an Act 250 permit because the project constituted “development,” defined in relevant part as “[t]he construction of improvements for commercial or industrial purposes on more than one acre of land within a municipality that has not adopted permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws.” Snowstone appealed the jurisdictional opinion to the Environmental Division, presenting the court with a revised contract that reduced the purchase price, removed the right of first refusal, and excised the deed restriction. Neighbors successfully intervened, arguing that the two parcels would be controlled by the same person due to the nature of the sales transaction, that the retained parcel would be “involved land,” and that the project would require a stormwater discharge permit with stormwater treatment facilities that would increase the amount of land necessary to operate the project beyond one acre. The court scrutinized the revised sales contract and determined that, with the excision of the former objectionable provisions, the contract evinced an arms-length transaction such that Snowstone and landowners were not one person. Accordingly, the court concluded that the entire 176 acres did not require an Act 250 permit. The Neighbors appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Snowstone, LLC Act 250 Jurisdictional Opinion" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied petitions for review of the EPA's final rule restricting access by consumers to methylene chloride, a dangerous chemical used in paint removal products. Petitioners contend that the Toxic Substances Control Act required the EPA to regulate commercial uses of methylene chloride as well as consumer uses. The court held that HSIA's challenge to the final rule fails because the final rule was supported by substantial evidence. In this case, EPA's implementation of a retailer distribution ban was a reasonable means to achieve its required goal of ensuring that the risks posed by consumer uses of methylene chloride were no longer presented. The court also concluded that the environmental petitioners' challenge is prudentially unripe for review at this time. View "Labor Council for Latin American Advancement v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing a complaint brought by the Conservation Commission of Norton, holding that the Wetlands Protection Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 131, 40, did not bar this action.The Commission issued an enforcement order to owners of property on which unauthorized fill had been placed by a prior owner, ordering the current owners (Defendants) to remove the fill. The Commission brought this action seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties when Defendants failed to comply with the order. The superior court concluded that that the Act created a statute of repose that prevented the Commission from bringing the enforcement action more than three years following the first transfer of ownership in the property after the alleged violation occurred. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order below, holding that the Act did not bar the action because the Commission commenced this enforcement action against Defendants within three years of the recording of the deed by which they acquired title. View "Conservation Commission of Norton v. Pesa" on Justia Law

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Wood smoke produced by home heaters can produce grave health consequences. To account for differences between residential and industrial or commercial sources, and in recognition that residential wood heater manufacturers are often small businesses, EPA regulates wood heaters’ emissions under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7411(b)(1)(A) through a certification program. Instead of requiring the testing of every heater, the program allows manufacturers to obtain certification to sell an entire model line based on satisfactory emissions testing of a single representative heater. EPA accepts test results from private, EPA-approved laboratories hired by the manufacturers. EPA may randomly select heaters from certified model lines for audit testing. Under its 1988 Rule, EPA called on the same laboratory that had done the certification testing for audit testing. The 1988 Rule referred to “restricting where and how audit testing could occur, at least until EPA studied and better understood interlaboratory variability.”The D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to the portion of the EPA 2015 rule updating those audit standards. When EPA proposed the current Rule, it explained the evolution of its understanding of test variability. It described how, based on analyses of testing proficiency data and improved testing methods developed since 1988, concerns about interlaboratory audit testing as a distinct source of variability were shown to have been overstated. It refined the audit procedures to address identified causes of variability. EPA acknowledged and adequately explained the changes and substantial evidence supports those changes. View "Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law