Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Sturgell was a commercial fisher for 48 years. He held Dungeness crab permits in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the 2012–2013 season, Sturgell landed 203,045 pounds of crab in California. Sturgell’s taking of crab in California before the delayed opening of the Oregon crab fishery meant he was required to wait until January 30, 2013, before taking, possessing, or landing that crab in Oregon. He could take crab in Washington on January 24. On January 29, Sturgell arrived in Astoria, Oregon to offload the crabs he had taken in Washington. He began to offload crabs at 6:15 p.m and offloaded 38,295 pounds; the balance of the 64,694 total offload was completed by 4:00 a.m. on January 30. A “Receiving Ticket,” indicating the “date of landing” as January 29, 2013, was signed by Sturgell and the buyer. The buyer later stated that this was “in error” as the ticket was actually written, “between 4[:00] a.m. and 5[:00] a.m. on January 30, 2013, after the offload was completed.” Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 8043, a landing receipt “shall be completed at the time of the receipt, purchase, or transfer of fish.” Sturgell’s permit was revoked. The trial court ordered the permit reinstated. The court of appeal dismissed the agency’s appeal as moot, with instructions that the trial court vacate its decision. Sturgill had retired and sold his permit for over $500,000. The Department approved the transfer. View "Sturgell v. Department of Fish and Wildlife" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against federal and state agencies in a dispute over the widening of Interstate Highway 630, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and NEPA's implementing regulations, 40 C.F.R. 1500-1508. Determining that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of injunctive relief, holding that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. In this case, plaintiffs failed to show that the FHWA's determination that the project qualifies for a categorical exclusion from NEPA requirements because the project takes place entirely within the existing operational right-of-way was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "Wise v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Under Water Code section 13304, a prior owner of property may be required to participate in the cleanup of wastes discharged from its property that resulted in groundwater contamination if that person “caused or permitted” the discharge. The San Francisco Regional Board named UATC in a cleanup order addressing waste discharges from dry cleaning operations at a shopping center owned by UATC in the 1960s and 1970s. The court of appeal reversed, in favor of the Board. The knowledge component of the statutory element of “permitted” focuses on the landlord’s awareness of a risk of discharge: a prior owner may be named in a section 13304 cleanup order upon a showing the owner knew or should have known that a lessee’s activity created a reasonable possibility of a discharge of wastes into waters of the state that could create or threaten to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The court rejected UATC’s argument that its liability was discharged in a 2000 bankruptcy reorganization proceeding. Even assuming the Regional Board’s entitlement to a cleanup order was a claim within the meaning of bankruptcy law, it was not discharged in UATC’s bankruptcy proceeding because it did not arise before confirmation of reorganization. View "United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc. v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region" on Justia Law

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Continental Resources, Inc. appealed a district court judgment dismissing its declaratory judgment action against the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (“Department”). Continental’s action for declaratory judgment requested the district court find “that if an approved control device is installed and operating at an oil and gas production facility, the mere presence of an emission from a closed tank hatch or control device does not, in and of itself, establish a violation of N.D. Admin. Code 33-15-07-2(1).” The district court dismissed Continental’s declaratory judgment action after finding the Environmental Protection Agency was an indispensable party, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the matter was not ripe for judicial review. While this appeal was pending, the Department moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment dismissing Continental’s request for declaratory judgment as not ripe for judicial review. View "Continental Resources v. N.D. Dept. of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Tesoro appealed the denial of a writ of mandate seeking to set aside a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) issued by the Regional Board. As a threshold matter, the court held that the factual question of when Tesoro's pipelines leaked pollutants was never answered because Tesoro never argued to the Regional Board that this action involved an impermissible retroactive application of the Porter-Cologne Act. The court held that where, as here, the administrative agency has not determined a factual predicate for a defense such as this one, administrative exhaustion should preclude the argument. Furthermore, the term "discharge" must be read to include not only the initial occurrence, but also the passive migration of the contamination into the soil and, ultimately, into the groundwater. The court held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's independent judgment that Tesoro's pipelines were the source of the contamination addressed in the CAO; it would have been futile for Tesoro to argue its narrow definition of "discharge" before the Regional Board, thereby excusing its failure to exhaust; and even if substantial evidence in the record supported Tesoro's factual contention that the initial discharge from its pipelines necessarily occurred before 1970, it would still be an actionable discharge under the Porter-Cologne Act. View "Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co., LLC v. L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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Cranbury Development bought a long-abandoned weapons-manufacturing facility that the U.S. military and others contaminated. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) ordered the parties responsible for the contamination (Cranbury, Maxxam, and the U.S. Navy) to memorialize their commitment to perform remediation. The Navy refused to take part. In 2005, Cranbury and Maxxam entered into a Consent Order with NJDEP, agreeing to clean up the site; NJDEP agreed not to sue them if they complied. That settlement let Cranbury and Maxxam seek contribution 10 from other polluters (like the Navy) while immunizing them from such claims. In 2006, Brick Yard bought the site, planning to redevelop it into commercial warehouses, and sought to assume Cranbury Development’s cleanup obligations. Brick Yard agreed to join the existing agreement, substituting for Cranbury Development. During the cleanup, problems arose. Brick Yard claims to have spent $50 million in the process. In 2015, Brick Yard sued the federal government, seeking cost recovery and contribution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a), 9613(f)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of the claims. The settlement with the state gave Brick Yard immunity from contribution claims, which extinguished its cost-recovery claim. The contribution claim against the federal government is untimely because Brick Yard sued nine years after joining the settlement. View "Cranbury Brick Yard, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Vermont Supreme Court in this case involved a state water-quality certification made pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for the operation of hydroelectric dams. ANR certified three dams operated by Morrisville Water and Light (MWL) and imposed conditions, including those to control the minimum amount of water released from each dam to support habitat for fish. MWL appealed these conditions to the Environmental Division. American Whitewater and Vermont Paddlers’ Club (collectively the Paddlers) also appealed, arguing that the conditions at one facility did not allow for whitewater boating. The Environmental Division rejected ANR’s flow rates and imposed MWL’s proposed flow rates, affirmed ANR’s conditions regarding a winter drawdown for one site, and imposed scheduled releases of water as requested by the Paddlers. ANR appeals and MWL cross appeals. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Environmental Division erred in rejecting ANR’s interpretation of its antidegradation policy and methodology for calculating flow rate, and affirmed the Environmental Division on the winter drawdown and timed releases for the Paddlers at the Green River facility. View "In re Morrisville Hydroelectric Project Water Quality" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the EPA's Risk Evaluation Rule establishing a process to evaluate the health and environmental risks of chemical substances. The Rule was promulgated by the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Ninth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to review petitioners' challenge to provisions of the Rule relating to the process by which EPA will conduct risk determinations. The panel explained that the challenge was not justiciable where petitioners' interpretation of what EPA intended to do and the resulting theory of injury were too speculative. In regard to petitioners' contention that the Rule contravenes TSCA's requirement that EPA consider all of a chemical's conditions of use when conducting a risk evaluation, the panel held that the challenged preambular language was not final agency action and not reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act. The panel held that challenges to specific provisions of the Rule were justiciable, but they failed on the merits because the provisions that petitioners point to did not in fact assert discretion to exclude conditions of use from evaluation. Finally, the panel held that EPA's exclusion of legacy uses and associated disposals contradicted TSCA's plain language, but that EPA's exclusion of legacy disposals did not. Accordingly, the panel dismissed in part, granted in part, and denied in part. View "Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps, holding that the district court properly determined that it was reasonable for the Corps to conclude that environmental effects of phosphogypsum production and storage fell outside the scope of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. The court held that the Corps otherwise complied with NEPA by issuing an area-wide environmental-impact statement, which served as the mine-specific impact statement for each of the four proposed mine sites, and following that up with a supplemental environmental assessment of the South Pasture Mine Extension, before issuing the Section 404 permit related to that mine in a record of decision. Finally, the court held that the Corps did not violate section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, which requires each agency to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking an "action" to ensure that such action was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or its habitat. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law