Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for certain air pollutants, 42 U.S.C. 7409. Each state must propose a state implementation plan (SIP) that “specif[ies] the manner in which national . . . ambient air quality standards will be achieved and maintained” for approval by the EPA. A 1990 CAA amendment set a national Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) standard for gasoline. In 2004, the EPA informed Michigan that eight counties in southeast Michigan were “nonattainment” areas for the ozone NAAQS. In response, Michigan enacted the “Summer Fuel Law” to limit the RVP for gasoline sold during the summer months within those eight counties. After concluding that the revised RVP standards were “necessary” for the attainment of the ozone NAAQS, the EPA approved the incorporation of the Summer Fuel Law into Michigan’s SIP. Ammex unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development from enforcing the Summer Fuel Law, arguing that the standard violates the Supremacy Clause and dormant Foreign Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. MDARD’s enforcement of the standard is the enforcement of federal law. View "Ammex, Inc. v. Wenk" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the Wehrum Memo, which declares that the plain language of section 112 of the Clean Air Act compels the conclusion that a source of toxic emissions classified as "major" can reclassify to an "area source," and thereby ease its regulatory burden, at any time after it limits its potential to emit to below the major source threshold. The DC Circuit held that the Wehrum Memo was not final agency action and therefore dismissed the petitions for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Act. The court emphasized that, when assessing the nature of an agency action (including whether it is final), courts should resist the temptation to define the action by comparing it to superficially similar actions in the caselaw. The court held, instead, that courts should take as their NorthStar the unique constellation of statutes and regulations that govern the action at issue. The court also emphasized that, although all legislative rules are final, not all final rules are legislative, and the finality analysis is therefore distinct from the test for whether an agency action is a legislative rule. View "California Communities Against Toxics v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the finding of the City of San Diego that adoption of an ordinance authorizing the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries and regulating their location and operation did not constitute a project, holding that the court of appeal misapplied the test for determining whether a proposed activity has the potential to cause environmental change under Cal. Pub. Res. Code 21065. The City did not conduct any environmental review when adopting the ordinance, finding that adoption of the ordinance did not constitute a project for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act, Cal. Pub. Res. Code 21000 et seq. (CEQA). Petitioner filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City's failure to conduct CEQA review. The trial court denied the petition. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the City correctly concluded that the ordinance was not a project because it did not have the potential to cause a physical change in the environment. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further findings, holding that the City erred in determining that the adoption of the Ordinance was not a project. View "Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Valbruna purchased the steel mill at a 2004 bankruptcy auction and began cleanup efforts under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. 6901. In 2000, Slater, the site’s then-owner, had unsuccessfully sued Joslyn, which had owned and operated the site from 1928-1981, in state court seeking indemnification under the parties’ contract and costs under Indiana’s Environmental Legal Actions (ELA) statute. In 2010, Valbruna sued Joslyn under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9613(b), and ELA. Joslyn’s fault is undisputed. Joslyn raised claim-preclusion, statute-of-limitations, and contribution defenses. The district court found that the CERCLA claim was not precluded, but the ELA claim was, and that the suit was timely. The court imposed equitable contribution on Valbruna, requiring it to pay for 25% of past and future cleanup costs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the CERCLA claim was not precluded. If there is no state-court jurisdiction to hear an exclusively federal claim, there is no claim preclusion. The claim was not barred as being filed more than six years after the start of “remedial action.” Slater’s earlier cleanup was “removal.” While the 25% imposition on a no-fault owner "reached the limits" of the court's discretion, there was no abuse of that discretion. Valbruna understood the site’s pollution problems before purchasing it and apparently paid far less than the asking price; the court was rationally concerned about a windfall for Valbruna. View "Valbruna Slater Steel Corp. v. Joslyn Manufacturing Co." on Justia Law

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In the 1990s, Boucher cut down nine trees on his family farm in Indiana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claimed that the tree removal converted several acres of wetlands into croplands, rendering the Bouchers’ entire farm ineligible for USDA benefits that would otherwise be available under the “Swampbuster” provisions in the Food Security Act of 1985, 16 U.S.C. 3801, 3821–24. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court. The USDA repeatedly failed to follow applicable law and agency standards. It disregarded compelling evidence showing that the acreage in question never qualified as wetlands that could have been converted illegally into croplands and has shifted its explanations for treating the acreage as converted wetlands, so its actions qualify as arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. The agency experts did not attribute the alteration of hydrology to the removal of the nine trees; the agency presented no evidence that the tree removal altered the wetland hydrology. The USDA failed to engage meaningfully with this point, ignoring a crucial factor under the agency’s interpretation of its regulation. View "Boucher v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order and judgment upholding the Water Board's determination that Barclay was jointly and severally responsible with real party in interest Shell Oil for the cleanup and abatement of petroleum hydrocarbon compounds and other contaminants (the petroleum residue or waste) at the former Shell tank farm in Carson, California. The court rejected Barclay's claims that the Water Board failed to hold the type of hearing required by the Administrative Procedure Act and its Administrative Bill of Rights; the payments Shell made to the Water Board constituted a conflict of interest tainting the proceedings and the RCAO; Barclay's actions are protected by the safe harbor of Water Code section 13304, subdivision (j); Barclay did not cause or permit a discharge of waste because its actions were not performed with the required knowledge of the hazards created; and the trial court erred in refusing to admit and consider additional evidence proffered by Barclay. View "Barclay Hollander Corp. v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgments of the circuit courts in this consolidated appeal concerning judicial review of the most recent permits issued to Carroll County and Frederick County under the Clean Water Act and a parallel Maryland regulatory scheme, holding that the Maryland Department of the Environment did not exceed its authority when it issued the permits and did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in including the challenged terms in the merits. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held (1) the Department may lawfully include an impervious surface restoration requirement in a municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) discharge permit without reference to the maximum extent practicable standard; (2) the Department may lawfully include an impervious surface restoration requirement in an MS4 permit; (3) the Department had authority to treat Frederick County and Carroll County as phase I jurisdictions for purposes of their MS4 permits; (4) it was not arbitrary or capricious for the Department to refrain from including "water quality trading" as a compliance method for MS4 permittees; and (5) an ambiguous provision in the Carroll County MS4 permit did not transfer the responsibilities of other agencies to the County. View "Department of Environment v. County Commissioners of Carroll County" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied petitions for review challenging the Commission's orders permitting Transcontinental Gas to move forward with a pipeline expansion called the Atlantic Sunrise Project. The court held that the administrative record foreclosed the Homeowners' and Environmental Associations' three arguments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); the Commission's market-need determination did not violate the Natural Gas Act; and circuit precedent foreclosed the Environmental Associations' and Homeowners' argument that the Commission's authorization for construction to go forward while their rehearing petitions were still pending—and thus before the Commission's decision was final and judicially reviewable—denied them due process. View "Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Energy Facility Siting Council modified its rules that govern amending site certificates. Petitioners challenged the validity of the new rules, arguing that the council failed to comply with required rulemaking procedures and that the rules exceeded the council’s statutory authority. FAfter review of petitioners' challenges, the Oregon Supreme Court agreed with some, but not all, of those grounds and concluded that the rules were invalid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law

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Appellants petitioned the Commission to revoke a coastal development permit (CDP), alleging that MVF's CDP application contained intentional misrepresentations regarding approvals it received from the Los Angeles County Environmental Review Board (ERB), the California Water Resources Control Board (Water Board), and the California Department of Fish and Game (Fish and Game). After the Commission denied the petition, appellants petitioned the superior court for a writ of administrative mandate to set aside the Commission's decision. The Court of Appeal affirmed the superior court's denial of the petition and held that substantial evidence supported the Commission's determination that accurate or complete information would not have caused the Commission to act differently in ruling on MVF's CDP application. In this case, the Commission correctly interpreted and applied section 13105, subdivision (a), and substantial evidence supported the Commission's determination that although MVF's application contained intentional misrepresentations regarding the approvals by the ERB, Fish and Game, and the Water Board, the Commission would not have imposed additional conditions or denied the CDP if accurate information had been provided. View "Hubbard v. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law