Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that neoprene production from the Pontchartrain Works Facility (PWF) exposed residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, to unsafe levels of chloroprene. Plaintiff filed suit against Denka and DuPont—the current and former owners of the facility—as well as the DOH and DEQ in state court. After removal to federal court, the district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand, granted each defendants' motion to dismiss, and dismissed the amended petition for failure to state a claim.After determining that removal was proper under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) and that the state agencies have consented to federal jurisdiction, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the equitable doctrine of contra non velentem tolls prescription of plaintiff's claims against DuPont and DOH. Consistent with Louisiana's contra non valentem analysis as to what plaintiff reasonably knew or should have known at the time, the court disagreed that, on the record before it, plaintiff had constructive knowledge sufficient to trigger the running of prescription over a year before she filed suit in June 2018. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's holding that plaintiff's claims were prescribed.The court concluded that plaintiff's custodial liability claims against DuPont fail for the same reason as her claims against Denka: a failure to state a plausible duty and corresponding breach. The court agreed with the district court's grant of Denka's motion to dismiss for failure to state a plausible claim of negligence and strict custodial liability arising from Denka's past and current neoprene manufacturing at the PWF. In this case, plaintiff fails to adequately allege a duty owed by Denka, and consequently whether Denka breached such a duty. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's declaratory relief claims against DEQ. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Butler v. Denka Performance Elastomer, LLC" on Justia Law

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Canton’s 2006 Tree Ordinance prohibits the unpermitted removal, damage, or destruction of trees of specified sizes, with exceptions for agricultural operations, commercial nurseries, tree farms, and occupied lots smaller than two acres. If Canton issues a permit, the owner must replace removed trees on its own or someone else’s property or pay into Canton’s tree fund. For every landmark tree removed, an owner must replant three trees or pay $450. For every non-landmark tree removed as part of larger-scale tree removal, an owner must replant one tree or pay $300.In 2016, Canton approved the division of F.P.'s undeveloped property, noting the permitting requirement. The parcels were bisected by a county drainage ditch that was clogged with fallen trees and debris. The county refused to clear the ditch. F.P. contracted for the removal of the trees and debris and clearing other trees without a permit. Canton determined that F.P. had removed 14 landmark trees and 145 non-landmark trees. F.P. was required to either replant 187 trees or pay $47,898. F.P. filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for F.P. on its as-applied Fifth Amendment claim; although the ordinance, as applied to F.P., was not unconstitutional as a per se physical taking, it was unconstitutional as a regulatory taking and as an unconstitutional condition. Canton has not made the necessary individualized determination; the ordinance fails the “rough proportionality” required by Supreme Court precedent. View "F.P. Development, LLC. v. Charter Township of Canton" on Justia Law

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Ordinances banning “land uses in support of” new oil and gas wells and “land uses in support of” wastewater injection in unincorporated areas of Monterey County were enacted as part of Measure Z, an initiative sponsored by PMC and passed by Monterey County voters.The trial court upheld, in part, a challenge to Measure Z by oil companies and other mineral rights holders. The court of appeal affirmed. Components of Measure Z are preempted by state laws. Public Resources Code section 3106 explicitly provides that the State of California’s oil and gas supervisor has the authority to decide whether to permit an oil and gas drilling operation to drill a new well or to utilize wastewater injection in its operations. Those operational aspects of oil drilling operations are committed by section 3106 to the state’s discretion and local regulation of these aspects would conflict with section 3106. View "Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Margaret McCann appealed a judgment in favor of defendant City of San Diego (City) on McCann’s petition for writ of mandate and an order denying her request for a preliminary injunction. McCann challenged the City’s environmental review process related to its decision to approve two sets of projects that would convert overhead utility wires to an underground system in several neighborhoods. McCann’s primary concern was the need for the underground system to be supplemented with several above-ground transformers, which would be housed in three-foot-tall metal boxes in the public right-of-way. According to McCann, the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for both sets of projects. The Court of Appeal concluded McCann’s claims were barred as to the first set of projects because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies to challenge the City’s determination that the projects were exempt from CEQA. The Court determined the City complied with the CEQA. However, the Court found merit in McCann’s argument the City’s finding that the projects would not have a significant environmental impact due to greenhouse gas emissions was not supported by substantial evidence. The Court found remand was necessary to allow the City to conduct a further review to determine if the greenhouse gas emissions were consistent with the City’s Climate Action Plan. Judgment was therefore reverse in part and affirmed in all other respects. View "McCann v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Clean Water Act requires states to adopt water quality standards regulating pollutants in their navigable waters, including the designated uses for the water body, such as supporting aquatic life or recreational use and the “water quality criteria” necessary to protect those uses, 33 U.S.C. 1313(c)(2)(A). The EPA approved Montana’s water quality standards in 2015. In 2017, Montana obtained EPA’s approval of a variance in the water quality standard, which covered 36 municipal wastewater treatment facilities for up to 17 years and allowed those facilities to discharge more nitrogen and phosphorus into wadeable streams than would be permitted under the approved base water standards.The Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge. The Act did not preclude the EPA from taking compliance costs into account when approving the variance requests. Congress has not directly spoken to that precise question and the EPA reasonably construed section 1313(c)(2)(A) as permitting it to consider compliance costs. The EPA’s variance regulation neither requires compliance with the highest attainable condition at the outset of the variance term nor requires compliance with base water quality standards by the end of that term. The regulations include numerous features to ensure that dischargers and waterbodies subject to variances continued to improve water quality, consistent with the goals of the Act, including supporting aquatic life and recreational uses whenever attainable. View "Upper Missouri Waterkeeper v, United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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River Watch sued the City of Vacaville under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6902(b), claiming that Vacaville’s water wells were contaminated by a carcinogen (hexavalent chromium), which was transported to Vacaville residents through its water distribution system, thereby contributing to the transportation of a solid waste in violation of RCRA. The district court concluded that the hexavalent chromium was not a “solid waste” under RCRA because it was not a “discarded material” and granted Vacaville summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit vacated. River Watch sufficiently raised an argument that the hexavalent chromium was “discarded material” that allegedly had migrated through groundwater from the “Wickes site,” where it had been dumped by operators of wood treatment facilities by presenting evidence that when the hexavalent chromium was discharged into the environment after the wood treatment process, it was not serving its intended use as a preservative, and it was not the result of natural wear and tear. Instead, the hexavalent chromium was leftover waste, abandoned and cast aside by the facilities’ operators. There also was a triable issue whether Vacaville was a “past or present transporter” of solid waste. RCRA does not require that the “transporter” of solid waste must also play some role in “discarding” the waste. View "California River Watch v. City of Vacaville" on Justia Law

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The Defendants, Ohana Military Communities, LLC and Forest City Residential Management, began a major housing construction project on Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) in 2006. MCBH was widely contaminated with pesticides potentially impacting human health. Defendants developed and implemented a Pesticide Soil Management Plan but allegedly never informed residential tenants of the Plan, the decade-long remediation efforts, or known pesticide contamination. Plaintiffs, military servicemember families, filed suit in Hawaii state court alleging 11 different claims under state law. Defendants removed the case to federal court.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of the Plaintiffs’ motion to remand. Federal jurisdiction did not exist because, under the Hawaii Admission Act, 73 Stat. 4 (1959), Hawaii had concurrent legislative or political jurisdiction over MCBH, so state law had not been assimilated into federal law. The court rejected an argument that, regardless of any concurrent state jurisdiction, federal jurisdiction exists where federally owned or controlled land is involved, and a substantial federal interest exists. There was no federal officer or agency jurisdiction because there was no causal nexus between the Navy and Ohana under 28 U.S.C. 1442, and Ohana was not a federal agency for purposes of federal jurisdiction. Under the Gunn test, no federal issue was “necessarily raised.” View "Lake v. Ohana Military Communities, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Appellants' appeal from the district court's dismissal of their appeal of a county board's grant of a conditional use permit (CUP) for the development of a commercial wind turbine operation, holding that this Court lacked jurisdiction to hear this appeal.In 2019, the Cherry County Board of Commissioners granted BSH Kilgore, LLC a CUP for the development of a commercial wind turbine operation in Cherry County. Thereafter, the Board granted BSH a four-year extension to build the operation. Appellants filed a "Complaint and Petition on Appeal" challenging the Board's action in granting the extension and asking for a trial de novo. The court dismissed Appellants' appeal, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction because the Board's decision was subject to review only through a petition in error. The Supreme Court dismissed Appellants' subsequent appeal, holding that, under the circumstances, the district court lacked jurisdiction, and therefore, this Court, too, lacked jurisdiction. View "Preserve of the Sandhills, LLC v. Cherry County" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Placer County, California (the County) approved a project to develop a resort on about 94 acres near Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch challenged the County’s approval in two lawsuits, both of which were appealed. In this case, Sierra Watch challenged the County’s environmental review for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In particular, Sierra Watch contended the County: (1) failed to sufficiently consider Lake Tahoe in its analysis; (2) insufficiently evaluated the project’s impacts on fire evacuation plans for the region; (3) inadequately evaluated and mitigated the project’s noise impacts; (4) failed to allow for sufficient public review of the project’s climate change impacts; (5) failed to consider appropriate mitigation for the project’s climate change impacts; (6) overlooked feasible mitigation options for the project’s traffic impacts; and (7) wrongly relied on deferred mitigation to address the project’s impacts on regional transit. The trial court rejected all Sierra Watch’s arguments. But because the Court of Appeal found some of Sierra Watch’s claims had merit, judgment was reversed. View "Sierra Watch v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

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Three appeals against respondent Department of Water Resources all involved litigation related to changes in long-term water supply contracts brought about by the “Monterey Agreement” and “Monterey Amendment.” In the first case, Central Delta Water Agency, et al. (collectively, Central Delta) appealed the trial court’s decision on a petition for writ of mandate challenging the adequacy of the “Monterey Plus” environmental impact report (Monterey Plus EIR) issued in 2010 and the validity of the Monterey Amendment. In the second, Center for Biological Diversity (Biological Diversity) appealed the trial court’s denial of attorney fees incurred in connection with its writ petition against DWR involving the Monterey Plus EIR and Monterey Amendment. In the third case, Center for Food Safety, et al. (collectively, Food Safety) appealed the trial court’s denial of a petition for writ of mandate challenging DWR’s revised environmental impact report on the Monterey Plus project (Revised EIR). Finding no reversible error in any of the three cases, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Central Delta Water Agency v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law