Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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A federal agency may not create an "aquaculture," or fish farming, regime in the Gulf of Mexico pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the Fisheries' challenged aquaculture rule exceeds the agency's statutory authority. The court explained that the Act neither says nor suggests that the agency may regulate aquaculture; the court rejected the agency's interpretation of Congress's silence on the matter as an invitation; explained that Congress does not delegate authority merely by not withholding it; and the court rejected the agency's argument that the Act's definition of "fishing" gives it authority to regulate aquaculture. The court noted that if anyone is to expand the forty-year-old Magnuson-Stevens Act to reach aquaculture for the first time, it must be Congress. View "Gulf Fishermens Ass'n v. National Marine Fisheries Service" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying EPIC's request for a preliminary injunction, challenging the Forest Service's approval of the Ranch Fire Roadside Hazard Tree Project in Northern California. In this case, rather than preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Project, the Forest Service relied on a categorical exclusion (CE) for road repair and maintenance in 36 C.F.R. 220.6(d)(4). The panel held that EPIC will likely succeed on the merits of its claim that an extensive commercial logging project that includes felling large, partially burned merchantable trees is not considered "repair and maintenance" within the meaning of section 220.6(d)(4). The panel also held that EPIC will suffer irreparable, though limited harm. Furthermore, EPIC has demonstrated that the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh in its favor. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Environmental Protection Information Center v. Carlson" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of Article III standing, a petition for review of the TCEQ's decision granting air permits to Rio Grande LNG. Petitioners, two membership organizations, ask the court to vacate the agency's decision and order either a contested-case hearing before the SOAH or the denial of the permits. The court held that petitioners have not satisfied their burden to show their members' injuries in fact. In this case, petitioners' claims -- that their individual members who live, work, and drive within a roughly fourteen-mile radius of the proposed facility will suffer an increased risk of harm that those living further away will not suffer -- are too generalized and petitioners have not produced enough evidence to show an actual or imminent harm. The court also held that, even if petitioners' members did identify specific risks, there is no evidence of the extent to which those risks would be increased for those members by the expected emissions. Furthermore, petitioners' claim that the proposed facility would cause ozone levels to be very close to violating the federally mandated levels failed to identify what specific health risks their members expect to suffer. Finally, to the extent petitioners argue that the denial of a contested-case hearing is a procedural harm separate and distinct from the harms they expect to be caused by the proposed facility, the court rejected that alleged injury as a basis for standing. View "Shrimpers and Fishermen of the RGV v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Under California Public Resources Code section 21167.6, documents "shall" be in the record in a CEQA challenge to an environmental impact report (EIR). The County of San Diego (County), as lead agency for the Newland Sierra project, no longer had "all" such correspondence, nor all "internal agency communications" related to the project. If those communications were by e-mail and not flagged as "official records," the County's computers automatically deleted them after 60 days. When project opponents propounded discovery to obtain copies of the destroyed e-mails and related documents to prepare the record of proceedings, the County refused to comply. After referring the discovery disputes to a referee, the superior court adopted the referee's recommendations to deny the motions to compel. The referee concluded that although section 21167.6 specified the contents of the record of proceedings, that statute did not require that such writings be retained. In effect, the referee interpreted section 21167.6 to provide that e-mails encompassed within that statute were mandated parts of the record - unless the County destroyed them first. The Court of Appeal disagreed with that interpretation, "[a] thorough record is fundamental to meaningful judicial review." The Court held the County should not have destroyed such e-mails, even under its own policies. The referee's erroneous interpretation of section 21167.6 was central to the appeals before the Court of Appeal. The Court issued a writ of mandate to direct the superior court to vacate its orders denying the motions to compel, and after receiving input from the parties, reconsider those motions. View "Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a citizen suit against Exxon, seeking to recover from more than 16,000 Clean Air Act violations arising from the Baytown, Texas complex. The Fifth Circuit held that Clean Air Act plaintiffs must prove standing for each violation in support of their claims. The court held that the evidence supports the district court's findings of injury, traceability, and redressability for a number of the violations. However, a limited remand is needed for the district court to determine what other violations could have contributed to plaintiffs' members' injuries and then to tabulate its findings. The court noted that it does not require line-by-line findings, but that the district court may group violations. Furthermore, plaintiffs have standing for at least some of the violations that Exxon asserts affirmative defenses against. The court remanded for findings on whether Exxon proved its Act of God defense for the relatively small number of violations occurring during Hurricane Ike. The court affirmed the district court's rejection of Exxon's Rule 52(b) motion, because Exxon failed to meet its burden in supporting its no-fault defenses by failing to identify evidence establishing that it met the relevant criteria for each individual emissions event. Because the court remanded for the district court to determine the number of violations for which plaintiffs have standing, as well as whether Exxon proved its Act of God defense for any violations, the court will also have to reassess the penalties. View "Environment Texas Citizen Lobby, Inc. v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law

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Water users and property owners in Flint, Michigan (plaintiffs) brought a class action at the Court of Claims against defendants Governor Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the MDEQ), and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the state defendants) and against defendants Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose (the city defendants). Plaintiffs alleged the Governor and these officials had knowledge of a 2011 study commissioned by Flint officials that cautioned against the use of Flint River water as a source of drinking water. In 2014, under the direction of Earley and the MDEQ, Flint switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River. Less than a month after the switch, state officials began to receive complaints from Flint water users about the quality of the water coming out of their taps. Plaintiffs alleged state officials failed to take any significant remedial measures to address the growing health threat and instead continued to downplay the health risk, advising Flint water users that it was safe to drink the tap water while simultaneously arranging for state employees in Flint to drink water from water coolers installed in state buildings. The state and city defendants separately moved for summary disposition on all four counts, arguing that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the statutory notice requirements in MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act, failed to allege facts to establish a constitutional violation for which a judicially inferred damages remedy was appropriate, and failed to allege facts to establish the elements of any of their claims. The Court of Claims granted defendants’ motions for summary disposition on plaintiffs’ causes of action under the state-created-danger doctrine and the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, art 1, section 17, after concluding that neither cause of action was cognizable under Michigan law. However, the Court of Claims denied summary disposition on all of defendants’ remaining grounds, concluding that plaintiffs satisfied the statutory notice requirements and adequately pleaded claims of inverse condemnation and a violation of their right to bodily integrity. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Claims. After hearing oral argument on defendants’ applications, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court expressly affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion regarding plaintiffs’ inverse-condemnation claim. The Court of Appeals opinion was otherwise affirmed by equal division. View "Mays v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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Meritor filed suit challenging the EPA's listing of the Rockwell facility and surrounding areas to the National Priorities List, alleging that the listing is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to governing regulations. The National Priorities List identifies hazardous waste sites in most urgent need of cleanup based on the threat that they pose to public and environmental health and to the public welfare. The DC Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the EPA did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by evaluating the Rockwell Site based on measurements taken before the sub-slab depressurization system was installed; by relying on a residential health benchmark when evaluating the "targets" metrics; and in calculating the "waste characteristics" component of the subsurface intrusion pathway. View "Meritor, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Katherine Hall appealed an Environmental Division decision granting summary judgment to Chittenden Resorts, LLC and RMT Associates, d/b/a Mountain Top Inn & Resort (the Resort). The Environmental Division concluded the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit to run a rental program where, pursuant to a contractual agreement, the Resort rented out private homes near the Resort. On appeal, Hall argued that the Environmental Division erred in determining that the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit. Specifically, she argued the Resort needed an amended Act 250 permit because under 10 V.S.A. 6001(14)(A), the Resort and owners of the homes involved in the rental program were a collective "person." Alternatively, she argued the Resort exercised "control" over the rental homes within the meaning of section 6001(3)(A)(i). The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed with Hall's characterization of the Resort and home owners as a collective "person." Further, the Court found the Resort did not control the rented homes contemplated by section 6001(3)(i). Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Mountain Top Inn & Resort, JO 1-391 (Hall, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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MPM appealed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment dismissing its claims for recovery of "remedial action" costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) as barred by the statute of limitations in 42 U.S.C. 9613(g)(2). UCC cross-appealed the district court's holding after a bench trial that UCC is liable to MPM for 95% of the cost of future "removal action." The Second Circuit held that the district court's conclusion that MPM's claims for recovery of remedial action costs were time-barred relied on an incorrect interpretation of the court's decision in New York State Electric and Gas Corp. v. FirstEnergy Corp., 766 F.3d 212 (2d Cir. 2014). Although the court agreed with the district court that UCC's corrective actions undertaken in the 1990s were remediation, the court did not understand NYSEG to mean that, for purposes of determining the timeliness of a cost recovery action, all remediation activity at a site regardless of circumstances is deemed to be part of a single remediation, so that the six year limitations period necessarily begins to run at the start of the first remedial activity. The court also held that the district court did not err in adjudicating the allocation of future removal action costs, or in allocating 95% against UCC. View "MPM Silicones, LLC v. Union Carbide Corp." on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed suit alleging that the EPA's decisions to register Enlist Duo—a pesticide designed to kill weeds on corn, soybean, and cotton fields—in 2014, 2015, and 2017, violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After determining that the petitions for review were timely and that petitioners have Article III standing, the Ninth Circuit held that NRDC waived any argument that EPA applied the incorrect standard when it registered Enlist Duo in 2014. Even absent waiver, the panel held that the NRDC's argument that the EPA applied the wrong standard is not persuasive. The panel also held that, although the EPA concedes that it cited the wrong standard, any error is harmless because the standard for unconditional registration is higher, not lower, than the standard for conditional registration. Furthermore, the panel held that substantial evidence supports the EPA's factual findings for its 2014, 2015, and 2017 registration decisions. In regard to the ESA claims, the panel held that the EPA's "no effect" findings, decision about the scope of the "action area," and "critical habitat" determinations survive deferential review. Accordingly, the court denied NFFC's petition for review; granted in part and denied in part NRDC's petition for review; and remanded without vacatur. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law