Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The U.S. EPA promulgated new landfill emissions guidelines in 2016. Each state was required to submit a plan for implementing the new guidelines. The EPA was to approve or disapprove each state plan. For states that failed to submit a plan, the EPA had to promulgate a federal plan that would govern implementation in those states. The deadline for EPA issue the federal plan was set by regulation for November 2017. The EPA missed the deadline. Several states sued to force EPA to promulgate its federal plan. EPA responded to the suit and also began the rulemaking process to extend its regulatory deadline. While that rulemaking was underway, the district court entered an injunction requiring EPA to promulgate the federal plan within six months (November 2019). Months later, the EPA finalized the rulemaking process, extending its regulatory deadline by two years to August 2021. The district court declined to modify the injunction.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion in denying the EPA’s request for relief because the new regulations constituted a change in law, and removed the legal basis for the court’s deadline. A shift in the legal landscape that removed the basis for an order warranted modification of the injunction. The court rejected an argument that courts must look beyond the new regulations and conduct a broad, fact-specific inquiry into whether modification prevented inequity. View "California v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two young Oregonians, concerned about the effects of climate change and their guardians, filed suit against the Governor and the State of Oregon (collectively, the State), contending the State was required to act as a trustee under the public trust doctrine to protect various natural resources in Oregon from substantial impairment due to greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change and ocean acidification. Among other things, plaintiffs asked the circuit court to specify the natural resources protected by the public trust doctrine and to declare that the State had a fiduciary duty, which it breached, to prevent substantial impairment of those resources caused by emissions of greenhouse gases. Plaintiffs also asked for an injunction ordering the State to: (1) prepare an annual accounting of Oregon’s carbon dioxide emissions; and (2) implement a carbon reduction plan protecting the natural resources, which the court would supervise to ensure enforcement. The circuit court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, concluding the public trust doctrine did not encompass most of the natural resources that plaintiffs identified, and did not require the State to take the protective measures that plaintiffs sought. In 2015, the circuit court entered a general judgment dismissing the action, and the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded for the circuit court to enter a judgment, consistent the Court of Appeals opinion, declaring the parties’ rights. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that as a matter of common law, the public trust doctrine was not fixed and, that it must evolve to address the undisputed circumstances presented, namely, that climate change was damaging Oregon’s natural resources. They argued the doctrine was not limited to the natural resources that the circuit court identified and, the doctrine should cover other natural resources beyond those that have been traditionally protected. The Oregon Supreme Court held the public trust doctrine currently encompassed navigable waters and the submerged and submersible lands underlying those waters. "Although the public trust is capable of expanding to include more natural resources, we do not extend the doctrine to encompass other natural resources at this time." The Supreme Court also declined to adopt plaintiffs’ position that, under the doctrine, the State had the same fiduciary duties that a trustee of a common-law private trust would have, such as a duty to prevent substantial impairment of trust resources. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, which vacated the judgment of the circuit court. The matter was remanded the circuit court to enter a judgment consistent with Supreme Court's judgment. View "Chernaik v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Proposition 65 was enacted by the voters to protect the people of California and its water supply from harmful chemicals. Proposition 65 required the Governor to publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Proposition 65 added Health and Safety Code section 25249.8, which provided the listing obligations and sets forth four independent “listing mechanisms” by which a chemical could be listed, including the “state’s qualified expert” listing mechanism and the “authoritative body” listing mechanism. At issue in this case was whether the decision by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to list Bisphenol A (BPA) as a chemical known to cause reproductive toxicity under Proposition 65, was an abuse of discretion. BPA is used primarily to coat food and beverage packaging and containers. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) commenced this action seeking to enjoin OEHHA from listing BPA. In an amended complaint, ACC sought a peremptory writ of mandate directing OEHHA not to list BPA. The trial court denied the requested relief. ACC appealed, asserting that OEHHA abused its discretion in: (1) refusing to consider the arguments against listing BPA; (2) concluding that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) formally identified BPA as a reproductive toxicant in the monograph; and (3) determining that NTP concluded that studies in experimental animals indicated that there was sufficient data to establish that an association between adverse reproductive effects in humans and BPA is “biologically plausible” within the meaning of that term as it was used in OEHHA’s own regulation. The Court of Appeal found OEHHA’s position as to biological plausibility was based on, among other things, the presumption that chemicals that cause harm in experimental animals will also cause similar harm in humans in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The Court concluded OEHHA did not abuse its discretion in listing BPA based on the monograph. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying ACC the relief requested in the amended complaint. View "Am. Chemistry Council v. Off. of Environ. Health Hazard Assessment" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Plaintiffs on their claims of interference and negligence, holding that the district court erred in determining that Defendants interfered with Plaintiffs' wells and that remand was necessary on the negligence claim to consider whether it survives the dismissal of Plaintiffs' interference claims.Plaintiffs diverted their water obtained through their water rights through the use of two wells. Defendant had a junior water right and operated five wells that were deeper and stronger than Plaintiffs' wells. Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit alleging interference and negligence, claiming that Defendant interfered with their water rights because when one of Defendant's wells operated it lowered the water table and put the available water beyond the reach of Plaintiffs' pumps. The district ruled in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the district court's determination of interference, holding that Plaintiff failed to prove interference; and (2) declined to reverse the negligence ruling but, in light of the reversal of the district court's interference determinations, remanded this claim for reconsideration and further fact-finding, if necessary. View "Arave v. Pineview West Water Co." on Justia Law

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National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden owned by the nonprofit North American Butterfly Association, lies along the border with Mexico. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planned to build a segment of the border wall through the Center. The Association sued, citing the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and two environmental statutes. DHS has not analyzed the environmental impact of border wall-related activities at the Center (42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C)), nor consulted with other federal agencies about how to minimize the impact of those activities on endangered species. An appropriation act subsequently prohibited funding for border fencing at the Center.The district court dismissed all claims, citing the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, 8 U.S.C. 1103, as stripping jurisdiction over the statutory claims because the DHS Secretary waived the application of environmental laws with respect to the construction of roads and physical barriers at the Center.The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part, first holding that the claims were not moot and that jurisdiction over the statutory claims was not stripped by IIRIRA, nor was review channeled directly to the Supreme Court. The court held that DHS’s waiver determination defeats the statutory claims, that the Association failed to state a Fourth Amendment claim of unreasonable seizure of property it acknowledges to be “open fields,” but that the Association stated a procedural due process claim under the Fifth Amendment. View "North American Butterfly Association v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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The emergency military construction authority provided by 10 U.S.C. 2808 does not authorize eleven border wall construction projects on the southern border of the United States.The Organizational Plaintiffs and the State Plaintiffs filed separate actions challenging the Federal Defendants' anticipated diversion of federal funds to fund border wall construction pursuant to various statutory authorities, including Section 2808. The Federal Defendants timely appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and declaratory relief to Sierra Club and the States and the grant of a permanent injunction to Sierra Club. The States timely cross-appealed the denial of their request for a permanent injunction.The Ninth Circuit held that the States and Sierra Club both have Article III standing and a cause of action to challenge the Federal Defendants' border wall construction projects; Section 2808 did not authorize the challenged construction where the projects are neither necessary to support the use of the armed forces nor are they military construction projects; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in either granting a permanent injunction to Sierra Club or in denying a separate permanent injunction to the States. Although the panel recognized that in times of national emergency the panel generally owes great deference to the decisions of the Executive, the particular circumstances of this case require it to take seriously the limitations of the text of Section 2808 and to hold the Executive to them. The panel stated that where, as here, Congress has clung to this power with both hands—by withholding funding for border wall construction at great effort and cost and by attempting to terminate the existence of a national emergency on the southern border on two separate occasions, with a majority vote by both houses—the panel can neither pry it from Congress's grasp. View "Sierra Club v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Sterling under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to recover response costs incurred at a Superfund Site. Sterling filed a counterclaim, arguing that the United States was itself liable for response costs under CERCLA as a prior "operator" of the Lava Cap Mine during World War II.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment finding Sterling liable for response costs and that plaintiffs could recover all response costs. The court held that Sterling is subject to CERCLA liability as a prior operator of the Mine and that the United States is not subject to CERCLA liability as a prior operator. The court also held that the interim remedy selected by the EPA to supply non-contaminated drinking water at the Site was not arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law. Furthermore, Sterling failed to overcome the presumption of consistency with the National Contingency Plan. View "United States v. Sterling Centrecorp Inc." on Justia Law

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The Network filed suit under the Clean Water Act against Dynegy, the owner of an Illinois power station, claiming that Dynegy’s station was releasing contaminants into groundwater. The district court dismissed the suit concluding that the Act does not regulate groundwater. An appeal focused on whether and how the Act applies to the alleged groundwater contamination after the Supreme Court’s 2020 “County of Maui” decision. Three organizations sought permission to file amicus briefs in support of Dynegy’s position. The Network argued that each brief only parrots Dynegy’s arguments, wasting the court’s time. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure state that a prospective amicus must explain why its brief is desirable and why the matters asserted are relevant. The Seventh Circuit Practitioner’s Handbook adds that the court looks at whether the submission will assist the judges by presenting ideas, arguments, theories, insights, facts, or data that are not found in the parties' briefs.The Seventh Circuit granted the motion, stating that amicus briefs should not serve only to count which interest groups are promoting which outcome. In this case: the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group briefly presents the history of Illinois groundwater regulation from before the Clean Water Act, lending context to the cited cases; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provides insight into how an alternative federal scheme would apply, absent Clean Water Act regulation; and the Washington Legal Foundation’s brief offers its own theory for how to best fit "Maui" into the existing federal scheme regulating the pollutants at issue. View "Prairie Rivers Network v. Dynegy Midwest Generation, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal from the decision of the district court reversing the decision of the director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) denying Brook Mining Company's application for a permit to develop and operate a new surface coal mine, holding that the issues presented in this appeal were moot.The EQC concluded that the permit application was deficient and denied Brook Mining Company's application. The Director of the WDEQ then denied the permit. The district court reversed. While this appeal was pending, Brook Mining Company submitted a revised permit application. The Director issued a decision that approved the revised permit application. Also while the appeal was pending, the legislature changed the regulatory structure for the approval of new coal mine applications by removing the opportunity for an EQC contested case hearing prior to the Director's decision. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that the issues in this appeal do not continue to present a justiciable controversy and have thus become moot. View "Fisher v. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Service in an action brought by Pacific Choice challenging the agency's rule imposing a quota system for the Pacific non-whiting groundwater fishery. Pacific Choice alleged that the Service's 2.7 percent maximum share and its "control" rule exceeded its authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 and violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).After determining that Pacific Choice's suit was timely, the panel held that the Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in setting the 2.7 percent maximum share. The panel rejected Pacific Choice's contention that the Service failed to consider market power and failed to articulate the methods by which, and the purposes for which, it set the maximum share percent. The panel also rejected Pacific Choice's statutory and APA challenges to the Service's control rule. The panel applied Chevron deference to the Service's interpretation of "hold, acquire, or use" to include "control," as well as to the Service's definition of "control," and held that nothing in the statute unambiguously foreclosed the Service's approach. View "Pacific Choice Seafood Co. v. Ross" on Justia Law