Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff and the Coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate, seeking a peremptory writ directing the City to set aside various land use approvals, as well as determinations and documents approved under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court sustained the demurrers of real parties and the Coalition without leave to amend and dismissed the Coalition's petition. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the Coalition's CEQA claims are time-barred because they were filed more than 30 days after the City filed a facially valid Notice of Determination. To the extent the Coalition argues on appeal that the agency lacked authority to make any determinations under CEQA or lacked authority to approve the project, while such claims could have been considered as part of a timely action, the court held that they are also time-barred. View "Coalition for an Equitable Westlake/MacArthur Park v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's holding that the EPA properly invoked the deliberative process privilege and Exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to withhold a portion of its OMEGA computer program when responding to plaintiffs' FOIA request. The OMEGA model is an EPA computer program used to forecast the likely responses of automakers to proposed EPA greenhouse gas emissions standards. In this case, the record shows that to the extent the full OMEGA model reflects any subjective agency views, it does so in the input files, not the core model. Therefore, the core model is not deliberative and thus does not fall within the scope of the privilege and FOIA Exemption 5. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a final environmental impact report (FEIR) for the construction of two freeway interchange ramps connecting Interstate 5 and State Route 56 (SR 56) (the Project). However, before the public comment period for the FEIR commenced and without issuing a notice of determination (NOD), Caltrans approved the Project a few days later and then filed a notice of exemption (NOE) two weeks later. The NOE stated that the Project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to Streets and Highways Code section 103,1 which was enacted January 1, 2012. Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision (CRCD) did not become aware of the NOE filing until after the 35-day statute of limitations period for challenging the NOE had run. CRCD filed a petition for writ of mandate and declaratory relief alleging, inter alia, that Caltrans erroneously claimed the Project was exempt from CEQA under section 103 and that Caltrans is equitably estopped from relying on the 35-day statute of limitations for challenging notices of exemption. Caltrans demurred to the petition on the grounds that the causes of action were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the Project was exempt from CEQA under section 103. CRCD opposed the demurrer. On appeal, CRCD contended the trial court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer to the petition because: (1) section 103 did not exempt Caltrans from complying with CEQA in its approval of the Project; and (2) the petition alleged facts showing equitable estoppel applies to preclude Caltrans from raising the 35-day statute of limitations. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer and therefore reversed the judgment of dismissal. View "Citizens for Responsible Caltrans Decision. v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, in a California Environmental Quality Act action, granting a peremptory writ of mandate directing the City to set aside its approval of a mixed-use development project, and to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project. The court held that petitioners did not forfeit their claim that they exhausted administrative remedies; at least one of the petitioners had standing under CEQA and thus the court has jurisdiction over the appeal; petitioners exhausted administrative remedies as to the cultural resource claims; an EIR is required to address the Project's impact on cultural resources; an EIR is required to address the Project's impacts on sensitive plant species; petitioners exhausted administrative remedies as to the oak tree claims; an EIR is required to address the Project's impacts on oak trees; and petitioners adequately exhausted administrative remedies as to each of their aesthetic resource claims and oak tree ordinance claims. The court also affirmed the trial court's post-judgment award of attorney's fees to petitioners as the successful parties in the CEQA action. The court held that CEQA's notice requirement does not preclude petitioners from recovering attorney's fees, and Appellant Gelfand is personally liable for his portion of the attorney's fee award. View "Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills" on Justia Law

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The jaguar is a large felid found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Pertinent here, the jaguar was listed as a foreign endangered species in 1972. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule designating 764,207 acres in New Mexico and Arizona as critical jaguar habitat. Plaintiffs filed suit, contending the Service’s designation was arbitrary and capricious. The district court ruled in favor of the Service. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agency did not comply with the regulation, and the Tenth Circuit's "resolution of this issue is beyond doubt. Further, the agency had a chance to rectify this error, but failed to do so. When an agency does not comply with its own regulations, it acts arbitrarily and capriciously. " The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "NM Farm & Livestock Bureau v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated actions, petitioners challenged the EPA's 2014 final rule, which exempted coal- and oil-burning power plant utility boilers' startup periods from numerical limits on hazardous air pollutants. EPA instead imposed qualitative "work practice" standards during these periods. The DC Circuit held that EPA erred in denying the petition for reconsideration and granted the petition in No. 16-1349 because it was impracticable for petitioners to raise their two objections during the notice-and-comment period and the objections were of central relevance to the final rule. Consequently, the court did not reach the merits of the arguments in No. 15-1015. View "Chesapeake Climate Action Network v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Canyon Crest filed suit challenging the approval of a conditional use permit and an oak tree permit granted to real party in interest Stephen Kuhn. Canyon Crest, a nonprofit organization established by Kuhn's immediate neighbors, alleged that defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by granting the permits. Kuhn subsequently requested that the county vacate the permit approvals, because he could not afford to continue the litigation. Canyon Crest then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that Canyon Crest failed to establish any of the requirements for a right to fees under the statute. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the litigation did not enforce an important right affecting the public interest. Furthermore, Canyon Crest failed to establish that this action conferred a significant benefit on the general public. View "Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) brought a civil enforcement action under the Environmental Protection and Health Act against David Gibson and VHS Properties, LLC, (“VHS”), for illegally operating a composting facility. After a three-day bench trial, the district court determined that Gibson was operating a “Tier II Solid Waste Processing Facility” without prior approval from DEQ. The district court assessed a civil penalty and issued an injunction. On appeal, Gibson raised a number of issues regarding DEQ’s authority to regulate compost and its inspection of the property. DEQ argued Gibson’s appeal was partially time-barred. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court held that although Gibson’s appeal was not time-barred, he failed to show error. Therefore, it affirmed the district court. View "DEQ v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Water Court closing certification case, holding that the Water Court did not err in its rulings. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court did not err (1) in its determination of the water rights claims that had historically used the Gibson-Reinig Ditch and the characteristics of those rights; (2) by creating a junior implied claim to account for the parties' historic use of the capacity of the Gibson-Reinig Ditch; (3) in its determination of the priority date for claim 97014-00; (4) by finding that the unauthorized water use by David and Teri Hoon and Betty and Gary Murphy was irrelevant to the proceedings; and (5) by separately decreeing the interest of Michael and Lisa Bay. View "Hoon v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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Defendants County of Sacramento and the County Board of Supervisors (the County) approved Cordova Hills, a large master planned community comprised of residential and commercial uses and including a university (the Project). Plaintiffs Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Sierra Club (Environmental Council) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the Project, which the trial court denied. Environmental Council appealed, contending the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) contained a legally inadequate project description, an inadequate environmental impact analysis, failed to analyze impacts to land use, and the County failed to adopt feasible mitigation measures. Central to the Environmental Council’s appeal was the contention that the university was not likely to be built, and since the EIR assumed the buildout of a university, it was deficient in failing to analyze the Project without a university. We shall affirm the judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s assessment, that the County, in drafting the EIR, was required to assume all phases of the Project, including the university, would be built. The Court affirmed the trial court in all respects. View "Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento" on Justia Law