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At issue was the geographic scope of the permitting authority delegated to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife over hydraulic projects. A coalition of counties challenged the Department's statutory authority to regulate the construction or performance of work to occur exclusively above the ordinary high-water line. The Washington Supreme Court held the plain language of the statute at issue looked to the "reasonably certain" (not "absolutely certain") effects of hydraulic projects on state waters in determining the scope of the Department's permitting authority, and at least some projects above the ordinary high-water line were reasonably certain to affect those waters. An examination of relevant legislative history confirmed that the legislature intended the Department's regulatory jurisdiction to include projects above the ordinary high-water line that affected state waters. View "Spokane County v. Dep't of Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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In 1998, the State Lands Commission granted Hanson’s predecessor 10-year leases, authorizing commercial sand mining from sovereign lands, owned by the state subject to the public trust, and managed by the Commission, under the Central San Francisco Bay, Suisun Bay, and the western Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. In 2006, Hanson requested extensions of several leases, but they expired before the Commission made its decision. The Commission granted four new 10-year leases covering essentially the same parcels in the San Francisco Bay. In 2012, opponents sought a writ of mandate to compel the Commission to set aside its approval of the project. In 2015, a different panel of the court of appeal found that the Commission’s environmental review of the project complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), but that the Commission violated the public trust doctrine by approving the project without considering whether the sand mining leases were a proper use of public trust lands. The Commission reapproved the project; the court discharged a writ of mandate. The court of appeal affirmed. While the Commission erred by concluding that private commercial sand mining constitutes a public trust use of sovereign lands, there is substantial evidence that the project will not impair the public trust. View "San Francisco Baykeeper, Inc. v. State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

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The 42-inch diameter natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline proposes to run 304 miles through Virginia and West Virginia, In the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Huntington District, the Pipeline and related roads will cross 591 federal water bodies, including four major rivers three of which are navigable-in-fact rivers regulated by the Rivers and Harbors Act, 33 U.S.C. 403. Because construction will involve the discharge of fill material into federal waters, the Clean Water Act requires clearance from the Corps, 33 U.S.C. 1344(a). The Act provides for individual permits or “interested parties can try to fit their proposed activity within the scope of an existing general permit,” in this case Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12, “which acts as a standing authorization for developers to undertake an entire category of activities deemed to create only minimal environmental impact.” The Corps verified that the Pipeline can proceed under NWP 12 rather than an individual permit. The Fourth Circuit vacated, holding that the Corps lacked statutory authority to substitute its own special condition for a different special condition imposed by West Virginia as part of its certification of NWP 12. Without completion of the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Act, a state cannot waive a special condition previously imposed as part of its certification of a nationwide permit. West Virginia did not follow federally-mandated notice-and-comment procedures in waiving another special condition imposed as part of its certification of NWP 12. View "Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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In 2001, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the dusky gopher frog as an endangered species, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), which required the Service to designate the frog's “critical habitat.” The Service proposed designating a site in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana (Unit 1). The frog had once lived in Unit 1, but the land had long been used as a commercial timber plantation; no frogs had been spotted there for decades. The Service concluded that Unit 1 met the statutory definition of unoccupied critical habitat because of its rare, high-quality breeding ponds and distance from existing frog populations. The Service commissioned a report, which found that designation might bar future development, depriving the owners of up to $33.9 million, but concluded that the potential costs were not disproportionate to the conservation benefits and designated Unit 1 as critical habitat. The owners sued, contending that the closed-canopy timber plantation on Unit 1 could not be critical habitat for the frog, which lives in open-canopy forests. The district court and Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated. The decision not to exclude an area from critical habitat is subject to judicial review. An area is eligible for designation as critical habitat only if it is habitat for the species. Section 1533(a)(3)(A)(i), the sole source of authority for critical-habit designations, states that when the Secretary lists a species as endangered he must also “designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat.” Whether the frog could survive in Unit 1; whether habitat can include areas where the species could not currently survive; and whether the assessment of the costs and benefits of designation and resulting decision were arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, must be addressed on remand. View "Weyerhaeuser Co. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service" on Justia Law

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The Alliance challenged the approval of a project comprising a fuel station, convenience store, and quick serve restaurant on The Alameda and the adoption of a mitigated negative declaration for the project. The Alliance sought to compel the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000). In March 2016, the trial court issued a “Peremptory Writ of Mandate of Interlocutory Remand for Reconsideration of Potential Noise Impacts,” requiring the city to set aside the resolutions, reconsider the significance of potential noise impacts, and take further action consistent with CEQA. The Alliance did not appeal from that decision but appealed from the December 2016 “Final Judgment on Petition for Writ of Mandamus,” which determined that the city’s supplemental return complied with the peremptory writ and with CEQA. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the March 2016 decision was the final judgment and the December 2016 decision was a post-judgment order. The court rejected claims that the city was required to prepare an EIR because there was substantial evidence in the record supporting a fair argument that the proposed project may have significant, unmitigated traffic and noise impacts and that the project violated the municipal code governing “formula retail businesses.” View "Alliance of Concerned Citizens Organized for Responsible Development v. City of San Juan Bautista" on Justia Law

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This case involved challenges by the High Sierra Rural Alliance (High Sierra) to the Plumas County’s general plan update and the final environmental impact report (EIR). All of High Sierra’s challenges related to these documents’ treatment of possible growth outside of the County’s planning areas. Specifically, High Sierra contended: (1) the County’s general plan update violated the California Timberland Productivity Act of 1982 (Timberland Act) by determining a residence or structure on a parcel zoned as a timberland production zone is necessarily compatible with timber operations; (2) the general plan update violated Government Code section 51104; (3) the County violated CEQA by failing to properly address the potentially significant impacts of allowing construction of multiple buildings covering up to two acres on a single parcel without any discretionary review or mitigation policies to protect the environment; (4) the County’s EIR was defective because it did not properly describe or disclose the potentially significant impacts of allowing new clustered subdivision development in rural areas under general plan update policy number LU1.1.4; and (5) the County should be required to recirculate the final EIR because the County added significant information regarding development after the close of the public comment period. The Court of Appeal concluded the County’s general plan update did not violate the Timberland Act by failing to recite the statutory language in Government Code section 51104. And the County’s EIR is not deficient for lack of study regarding the effects of section 51104 on the construction of residences and structures in timberland production zone parcels. The Court also concluded the EIR adequately analyzed reasonably foreseeable development within the County, including impacts that could be expected outside the planning areas. The Court agreed with the trial court that the County reasonably crafted the EIR as “a first-tier environmental document that assesses and documents the broad environmental impacts of a program with the understanding that a more detailed site-specific review may be required to asses future projects implemented under the program.” View "High Sierra Rural Alliance v. County of Plumas" on Justia Law

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The water court concluded Robert Sease diverted water from Sheep Creek in violation of a 2013 order, which forbade him to use out-of-priority water from Sheep Creek on his Saguache County property (“the Sease Ranch”). Thus, the water court found Sease in contempt of court and imposed both punitive and remedial sanctions on him. Sease appealed, arguing: (1) the water court had no basis to find that he owns the Sease Ranch; and (2) the water court improperly shifted the burden of proof to him when it noted that there was a lack of evidence in the record that “someone else came on the premises and did [the contemptuous] work without [his] authorization or against his will.” The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with Sease on both arguments and affirmed the water court’s contempt order. View "Colorado v. Sease" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from an Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) decision to extend the City of Burlington’s 2011 Conditional Use Determination (2011 CUD), which permitted the City to commence construction on the Champlain Parkway project. Appellant Fortieth Burlington, LLC (Fortieth) challenged ANR’s approval of the permit extension, and the Environmental Division’s subsequent affirmance of that decision, on grounds that the City failed to adhere to several project conditions outlined in the 2011 CUD and was required to redelineate and reevaluate the wetlands impacted by the project prior to receiving an extension, among other reasons. The Environmental Division dismissed Fortieth’s claims, concluding that the project complied with the 2011 CUD’s limited requirements for seeking a permit extension and that Fortieth’s other claims were collateral attacks against the underlying permit and were impermissible. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Champlain Parkway Wetland Conditional Use Determination (Fortieth Burlington, LLC)" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Audubon Society of Greater Denver sought review of the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a project to store more water in the Chatfield Reservoir in Colorado. Audubon argued the Corps’ review and approval of the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The district court denied the petition for review after concluding that the Corps’ decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Audubon also moved to supplement the administrative record. The district court denied the motion because it found that the administrative record sufficiently informed the Corps’ analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Audubon Society v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion filed December 12, 2017, and substituted the following opinion. In National Mining Association v. Zinke, 877 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2017), the panel upheld the decision of the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw, for twenty years, more than one million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims. The panel held that that withdrawal did not extinguish "valid existing rights." The panel affirmed, with one exception, the district court's judgment in an action filed by the Tribe and three environmental groups challenging the Forest Service's determination that Energy Fuels had a valid existing right to operate a uranium mine on land within the withdrawal area. The panel held that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and not the Mining Act, formed the legal basis of plaintiffs' claim that Canyon Mine should not be exempt from the withdrawal because the valid existing right determination was in error. The panel vacated as to this claim and remanded for reconsideration on the merits. View "Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio" on Justia Law