Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court invalidating Order No. 1293A, which prohibited the driving of new domestic wells in the Pahrump Artesian Basin unless the applicant identified and relinquished 2.0 acre-feet annually from an alternate source (the 2.0 afa requirement), as unlawful, holding that Nevada law authorized the order's 2.0 afa requirement under the circumstances.In invalidating the order, the district court concluded (1) the State Engineer violated due process by issuing the order without first providing notice and a public hearing; (2) the State Engineer lacked authority to issue the 2.0 afa requirement; and (3) substantial evidence did not support the order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the State Engineer was not required to hold a hearing or develop a more robust record; (2) the State Engineer was not required to provide notice and a hearing regarding the 2.0 afa requirement under the circumstances; and (3) the State Engineer's decision was supported by substantial record evidence. View "Wilson, P.E. v. Pahrump Fair Water, LLC" on Justia Law

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Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the ruling of the district court approving a consent decree to which Appellants, three companies, were not parties but that had been entered into by certain federal agencies, Emhart Industries, and the State of Rhode Island, holding that the district court's approval of the decree was proper.The decree settled claims involving parties under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Rhode Island law regarding the responsibility for and allocation of the costs of the cleanup of a contaminated Superfund site located in North Providence, Rhode Island. The decree further purported to bar Appellants' own CERCLA claims against Emhart and the federal agencies relevant to the allocation of the costs of the site's cleanup. The district court approved the decree. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in approving the decree. View "Emhart Industries, Inc. v. CNA Holdings LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court reversing a Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) contested case decision granting RC Resources, Inc. (RCR) a beneficial water use permit under pertinent provisions of the Montana Water Use Act (MWUA) - Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-301(1), -302(1), and -311 - holding that the district court erred.The permit at issue would have authorized RCR to annually appropriate 857 acre-feet of groundwater that will flow into the underground adits and works of the proposed Rock Creek Mine. Based on its construction of Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-311(1)(a)(ii)(B), the district court reversed the issuance of the beneficial use permit. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) DNRC correctly concluded that, as used in section 85-2-311(1)(a)(ii), "legal demands" does not include consideration of whether the subject use complies with applicable Montana Water Quality Act nondegradation standards; and (2) section 85-2-311(2) does not violate the right to a clean and healthful environment as applied to the objectors' MWQA nondegradation objections to the proposed MWUA beneficial use permit. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that groundwater is a Class 1 water under Minnesota law and therefore subject to secondary drinking water standards promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).In 2018, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit to United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) governing U.S. Steel's Minntac Tailings Basin Area in Mountain Iron and setting a groundwater sulfate limit of 250 mg/L at the facility's boundary that U.S. Steel must meet by 2025. On appeal, U.S. Steel argued that the MPCA did not have the authority to impose the sulfate standard in the permit because the EPA's secondary drinking water standards apply only to bodies of water classified as Class 1 waters and that groundwater is not classified as Class 1. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the MPCA's decision. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) groundwater is a Class 1 water under Minnesota law; and (2) therefore, the MPCA correctly exercised its authority by applying the Class 1 secondary drinking water standards to the permit. View "In re Reissuance of NPDES/SDS Permit to United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court holding that the adoption of a comprehensive plan is not a proper subject of a claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), Minn. Stat. 116B.01-.13, holding that adoption of a comprehensive plan can be the subject of a MERA claim and that Appellants' allegations were sufficient to state a claim under MERA.This appeal centered a claim challenging the City of Minneapolis's 2040 Comprehensive Plan, alleging that the City's adoption of the Plan violated the state's environmental law. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that because comprehensive plans are specifically exempt from environmental review under Minn. R. 4410.4600, comprehensive plans are also exempt from judicial review under MERA. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) rule 4410.4600 does not exempt comprehensive plans from environmental review under MERA; and (2) the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "State by Smart Growth Minneapolis v. City of Minneapolis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court reversing the decision of the Deuel County Board of Adjustment granting special exception permits (SEP) to Deuel Harvest Wind Energy, LLC and Deuel Harvest Wind Energy South, LLC (Deuel Harvest) to develop two wind energy systems in the County, holding that the circuit court erred by invalidating the votes of two Board members.Following a public hearing, the Board unanimously approved the SEPs. Appellees, several residents of Deuel County and neighboring counties, petitioned for a writ of certiorari, asserting that several Board members had interests or biases disqualifying them from considering the permits. The circuit court invalidated the votes of two Board members due to disqualifying interests and overturned the Board's approval of the SEPs. The Supreme Court reversed in part and reinstated the Board's unanimous vote in approving the SEPs, holding that the circuit court erred in disqualifying the two members from voting on the SEPs. View "Holborn v. Deuel County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Espinoza asked a San Jose city planner to place him on the public notice list for a proposed project which would rezone farmland for light industrial uses. He twice specifically requested a copy of the notice of determination (NOD) documenting the city’s certification of an environmental impact report and approval of the project. The city filed two NODs for the project: the first identified the wrong applicant but the second correctly listed Microsoft as the applicant. The city, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), failed to send Espinoza the legally operative second NOD. Based on the first NOD, which the city had emailed to Espinoza, the initial petition for writ of mandate named the wrong real party in interest. Plaintiff did not file an amended petition naming Microsoft until after the limitations period had run. The court determined that the initial petition was defective for failing to join Microsoft as a necessary and indispensable party and dismissed the CEQA claim in the amended petition as untimely.The court of appeal affirmed, noting its “uncomfortable conclusion" that the dismissal must be upheld. The city violated CEQA by failing to send Espinoza the second NOD but the second NOD was properly filed with the county clerk. It provided constructive notice of the correct parties to sue and Espinoza did not timely amend its petition to name Microsoft. View "Organizacion Comunidad de Alviso v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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Appellant Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (“DNREC”), challenged the Superior Court’s holding that Appellee Food & Water Watch (“Watch”), had organizational standing to contest Order No. 2016-W-0008 (the “Secretary’s Order”), which established a system to regulate pollutants from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“Feeding Operations”). Specifically, DNREC argued Watch did not have organizational standing to challenge the Secretary’s Order because its representatives could not adequately establish injury in fact, causation, and redressability. Watch responded that this action was moot: since DNREC ultimately won on the merits and neither party appealed the merits decision, the issue of standing was no longer justiciable because the action was not adversarial. Further, even if this action was not moot, Watch argued that it had standing. Having reviewed the briefs, the supplemental memoranda, and the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court dismissed this appeal for lack of standing to appeal. DNREC was the prevailing party below; the Superior Court granted DNREC all of the relief it requested; and the Superior Court’s standing decision did not meet the criteria for a collateral adverse ruling. Accordingly, the standing decision did not render DNREC an aggrieved party, and DNREC does not have standing to appeal. View "DNREC v. Food & Water Watch" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Montana Water Court establishing the point of diversion for two claims owned by Carolyn Mack and Chriss Mack, holding that the Water Court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court (1) did not err when it concluded that it had jurisdiction over the Macks' amended statement of claim; (2) did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the Macks did not make any judicial admissions in previous litigation; (3) did not err in assigning the burden of proof to Appellants - Glenda, Jimmy, John, and Rowdy Anderson; and (4) did not abuse its discretion in excluding the Andersons' expert witness. Lastly, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous and that there was substantial evidence supporting the Water Court's conclusion establishing the point of diversion for the Macks' claims. View "Mack v. Anderson" on Justia Law