Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the FAA issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the construction and operation of an air cargo facility at the San Bernardino International Airport. The Record of Decision found no significant environmental impact. Objectors asserted that the FAA did not conform its study areas to the FAA’s Order 1050.1F Desk Reference.The Ninth Circuit rejected a petition for review. The FAA’s nonadherence to the Desk Reference could not alone serve as the basis for holding that the FAA did not take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences. Rejecting an argument that the FAA should have expanded its assessment to include more than 80 projects, the court held that the record showed that the FAA did consider the fact that the additional projects would result in massive average daily trips in the first year of operations.The court rejected California’s argument that the FAA needed to create an environmental impact statement because a California Environmental Impact Report found that the proposed Project could result in significant impacts on air quality, greenhouse gas, and noise. The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s own assessment was that the Project will comply with federal and state air quality standards. The court also rejected California’s noise concerns. Objectors failed to show arbitrariness or capriciousness in the EA’s truck trip calculation method and provided no reason to believe that the Project threatened to violate federal ozone standards. View "Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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There have been multiple cases that purported to (at least partially) adjudicate and reserve water rights of various parties throughout the Yakima River Drainage Basin (the Basin). The underlying litigation began in 1977 when the Washington State Department of Ecology filed a general water rights adjudication for all waters contained within the Basin. The Yakima County Superior Court divided the Basin into multiple distinct subbasins and issued conditional final orders (CFOs) for each subbasin at various points within the litigation. The superior court issued its final decree in May 2019, incorporating all of the prior CFOs as necessary. Multiple parties appealed the final decree, and, after briefing, the Court of Appeals certified the case to the Washington Supreme Court. The appeal could be categorized as three separate appeals, each seeking to modify the trial court's final decree (or the incorporations of the CFOs within). Although each distinct appeal was unrelated as to the disputed issues, some parties had an interest in more than one appeal. Further, all three appeals were tied together by variations on one common procedural gatekeeping issue: the appealability of CFOs and how that related to an appeal of the final decree. Overall, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court in part and affirmed in part. View "Dep't of Ecology v. Acquavella" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court entering three separate judgment opinions and orders against Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) in this action brought by the United States seeking to recover response costs associated with the cleanup of the Maunabo Area Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, holding that the district court did not err.The United States brought this action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq., against PRIDCO, as a potentially responsible party. PRIDCO owned property on the Site that contained elevated levels of hazardous substances in the groundwater that were found downgradient in a public drinking water well. In its orders against PRIDCO, the district court found, inter alia, that the United States had established its prima facie case against PRIDCO for liability under CERCLA and that PRIDCO was liable for $5.5 million in past response costs and would be liable for additional response costs reasonably incurred by the United States. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the entry of summary judgment and award of response costs was not error. View "United States v. Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co." on Justia Law

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In this dispute between the Maine lobster industry and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Agency) over a rule barring frequently employed methods of lobstering the First Circuit granted the Agency's motion for a stay pending appeal of the district court's issuance a permanent injunction, holding that the Agency was entitled to a stay.In 2021, the Agency issued a rule barring, from October to January each year, the most frequently employed methods of lobstering in an approximately 1,000-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to reduce the risk that a right whale would become entangled in the ropes connecting lobster traps to buoys. Plaintiffs brought this action seeking to postpone enforcement of the new rule until the district court could finally decide whether the new rule was lawful. The district court granted Plaintiffs' preliminary request. The Agency appealed and asked the First Circuit to issue a stay of the district court order. The First Circuit granted the government's motion, holding the district court misapprended the record and erred in rejecting the Agency's arguments. View "District 4 Lodge of the International Ass'n v. Raimondo" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule for trailers pulled by tractors based on a statute enabling the EPA to regulate “motor vehicles.” In that same rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued fuel efficiency standards for trailers based on a statute enabling NHTSA to regulate “commercial medium-duty or heavy-duty on-highway vehicles.” The “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.” 81 Fed. Reg. 73,478, requires trailer manufacturers to adopt some combination of fuel-saving technologies, such as side skirts and automatic tire pressure systems. Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association sought review.The D.C. Circuit vacated all portions of the rule that pertain to trailers. Trailers have no motor and art not “motor vehicles.” Nor are they “vehicles” when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy since motorless vehicles use no fuel. View "Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In 2001, the City issued China Shipping a permit to build the Container Terminal, within the Port of Los Angeles. The settlement of a suit under the California Environmental Quality Act required the City to prepare an environmental impact report. The resulting 2008 Report found the project “would have significant and unavoidable adverse environmental impacts to air quality, aesthetics, biological resources, geology, transportation, noise, and water quality sediments and oceanography.” The City adopted more than 50 mitigation measures and several lease measures to reduce these impacts. China Shipping’s lease was never amended to incorporate the mitigation measures. Several measures were partially implemented; others were ignored entirely. In 2015, the City began a revised environmental analysis for the Terminal. The Board of Harbor Commissioners certified the final supplemental report in 2019. The City Council approved it in 2020, allowing the Terminal to operate under revised conditions. China Shipping refused to implement or to pay for any new measures. The Air District filed suit, seeking to set aside the Terminal's approvals and permit and nullification of the certification of the 2020 Report, to disallow continued operation of the Terminal.The Union sought permissive intervention, claiming that up to 3,075 of its members could lose their jobs. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the Union’s motion. The Union’s interest in the case was speculative and consequential—not direct and immediate, as required for permissive intervention—and the prejudice to existing parties outweighed the reasons supporting intervention. Other parties can be counted upon to support the jobs issue. Unlike the Attorney General and the California Air Resources Board, which were permitted to intervene, the Union has no legal interest in the CEQA issues. Another intervening party would complicate the litigation. View "South Coast Air Quality Management District v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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In the first suit between the parties, the state trial court entered judgment against plaintiffs in August 2018. Plaintiffs then filed this second suit in federal court, asserting the same state law claims in addition to claims under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the state law claims as precluded by res judicata; dismissal of the CWA claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim; and denial of plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief. In this case, the non-CWA claims existed at the time of the state court judgment, and are the same as those asserted in the state court litigation. Furthermore, plaintiffs have forfeited any argument that the district court erred in dismissing the CWA allegations in the original, first, and second amended complaints. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' subsequent Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration, which included a request for leave to file a third amended complaint. View "Stevens v. St. Tammany Parish Government" on Justia Law

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Defendants Yolo County and its board of supervisors (collectively, the County) adopted a revised mitigated negative declaration and issued a conditional use permit to real parties in interest to operate a bed and breakfast and commercial event facility supported by onsite crop production intended to provide visitors with an education in agricultural operations (project). A trial court found merit in three of several arguments presented to challenge the decision, specifically finding substantial evidence supported a fair argument under the California Environmental Quality Act that the project may have had a significant impact on the tricolored blackbird, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle (beetle), and the golden eagle. The trial court ordered the County to prepare an environmental impact report limited to addressing only the project’s impacts on those three species. Further, the Court ordered the project approval and related mitigation measures would remain in effect, and the project could continue to operate. Plaintiffs-appellants Farmland Protection Alliance and Yolo County Farm Bureau appealed, contending the trial court violated the Act by: (1) ordering the preparation of a limited environmental impact report, rather than a full one, despite finding substantial evidence with respect to the three species; (2) finding the fair argument test was not met as to agricultural resource impacts; and (3) allowing the project to continue to operate during the period of further environmental review. Real parties in interest cross-appealed, arguing the trial court erred in finding substantial evidence supported the significant impacts on the three species. They requested an order vacating the judgment requiring the preparation of the limited environmental impact report (even though the limited environmental impact report was already certified by the County). The Court of Appeal concluded Public Resources Code section 21168.9 did not authorize a trial court to split a project’s environmental review across two types of environmental review documents. The trial court thus erred in ordering the County to prepare a limited environmental impact report after finding the fair argument test had been met as to the three species. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court concluded the trial court did not err in: (1) upholding the County’s determination that the project was consistent with the Code and the Williamson Act; and (2) finding substantial evidence supported the projects effects on the beetle. Judgment was reversed requiring the preparation of a limited impact report, and the case remanded with directions to issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the County to set aside its decision to adopt the revised mitigated negative declaration and to prepare a full environmental impact report for the project. View "Farmland Protection Alliance v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law

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Respondent City of Tustin (City) reviewed a proposed construction of a new gas station and ancillary facility (project) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code section 21000 et seq. (CEQA), and concluded the project was exempt from CEQA under the categorical exemption for “in-fill development.” After the City approved the project and filed a notice of exemption, appellant Protect Tustin Ranch (Protect) sought a writ of mandate to set aside the City’s approvals due to what it claimed was an erroneous finding by the City that the project was exempt from CEQA. The trial court denied Protect’s petition. The Court of Appeal found no error and affirmed the judgment. View "Protect Tustin Ranch v. City of Tustin" on Justia Law

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The University of California (Regents) approved a new development for additional academic space and campus housing, certified a final supplemental environmental impact report (SEIR), then filed a notice of determination regarding the project, which identified ACC as the developer and CHF as the ground lessee and borrower in connection with the housing. SBN challenged the certification of the SEIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), citing various omissions. A first amended petition, substantively identical to the initial petition, added ACC and CHF as real parties in interest, Public Resources Code 21167.6.5(a)). SBN subsequently filed a first amendment to that petition, seeking to add ACC’s parent companies (jointly, ACC) as real parties in interest.ACC and CHF argued SBN failed to name them as parties within the applicable limitations period. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of ACC and CHF, citing Code of Civil Procedure 389(b). The courts declined to dismiss the entire petition. SBN would have no way to challenge the SEIR if the case was dismissed, whereas ACC and CHF were parties in a related case challenging the same SEIR and unlikely to be subject to a harmful settlement. The court concluded ACC and CHF were not indispensable parties, noting the unity of interest between those parties and the Regents. View "Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law