Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's dismissal of the Pearl Raty Trust's claim that it is an inhabitant of Salt Lake City and thereby entitled to the City's water under Utah Const. art. XI, 6, holding that the Trust failed to persuade the Court that the Utah voters who ratified the Constitution would have considered it an inhabitant of the City. The Trust sought water for an undeveloped lot it owned in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Although the lot sat in unincorporated Salt Lake County, the lot fell within Salt Lake City's water service area. The court of appeals ruled that the Trust was not an inhabitant of the City because it "merely holds undeveloped property within territory over which the City asserts water rights and extra-territorial jurisdiction." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Trust failed to persuade that the people who ratified the Utah Constitution understood the word "inhabitants" to encompass any person who owned property in a city's approved water service area. View "Salt Lake City Corp. v. Haik" on Justia Law

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Wayne challenged the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)’s authority to regulate its proposed fracking activities. Riverkeeper, an environmental group, was permitted to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. Three Pennsylvania State Senators also sought to intervene, on the side of Wayne, in their official capacities. The Senators asserted that the “DRBC is nullifying the General Assembly’s lawmaking power by effectively countermanding the directives of duly enacted laws that permit” fracking-related activities. They did not specify the relief they sought. Riverkeeper contended that the Senators lacked standing to intervene. The district court denied the Senators’ motion without discussing standing, holding that the Senators had failed to establish the conditions necessary for Rule 24(a) intervention of right. The court later granted DRBC’s motion to dismiss. On remand from the Third Circuit, the Senators again sought to intervene, requesting that the court “invalidate the de facto moratorium and enjoin its further enforcement,” as exceeding the DRBC’s scope of authority, or, alternatively, that the DRBC “provide just compensation." The district court denied the motion because the Senators had not shown a “significantly protectable interest in th[e] litigation.” The Third Circuit vacated and remanded, reasoning that the Senators appear to be seeking relief different from that sought by the plaintiff. The district court erred in ruling on the merits of the Rule 24 motion before considering whether the Senators need to establish Article III standing for either of their proposed claims. View "Wayne Land and Mineral Group LLC v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted Maryland's petition for review of the EPA's denial of its Clean Air Act section 126(b) petition requesting that the EPA impose additional limitations on certain upwind sources that were purportedly contributing to the state's nonattainment of the national ozone standards. The EPA applied the same four-step framework it developed in the implementation of section 110 and denied the section 126(b) petition at Step Three. The EPA concluded that Maryland failed to identify further cost-effective emission reductions at sources operating with catalytic controls. For the remaining sources named in Maryland's petition, the EPA explained that non-catalytic controls were not cost-effective in this context. The court held that the EPA's determination was inadequate with respect to non-catalytic controls and therefore granted Maryland's petition for review in part, remanding the issue to the EPA. The court denied all other petitions for review from Delaware and a coalition of environmental groups. The court rejected some of the EPA's Step One determinations, but found, with one exception, that it reasonably denied the petitions at Step Three. View "Maryland v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In 2011, San Jose acquired the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle, constructed in 1922, planning to demolish the Trestle and replace it with a new steel truss pedestrian bridge. The city approved the project, adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), and found that the Trestle was not a historical resource. The Trestle was not listed in the California Register of Historical Resources. Had it been listed, the city would have been statutorily mandated to consider it a historical resource. In 2017, the California State Historical Resources Commission approved the listing of the Trestle. In 2018, the city submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) a “Notification of Lake or Streambed Alteration” for the project. The city's 2014 Streambed Alteration Agreement (SAA) had expired. CDFW signed the final SAA, finding that the project would not have any significant impacts on fish or wildlife “with the measures specified in the 2014 MND and the [SAA].” The Conservancy unsuccessfully sought judicial intervention. The court of appeal affirmed. The city’s actions in obtaining the 2018 SAA did not require supplemental environmental review; the approval of the MND in 2014 included approval of the SAA and obtaining the new SAA did not involve any “new discretionary approval.” View "Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Land Use Commission of the State of Hawai'i erred in a 2017 by interpreting a condition of an administrative order issued almost thirty years earlier prohibiting a resort (Resort) from irrigating its golf course with "potable" water to mean that brackish water is per se "non-potable" but that the Commission did not err in determining that the Resort did not violate the condition under its plain meaning. In 1991, the Commission issued an order approving the Resort's petition seeking to effect district reclassification of a large tract of rural and agricultural land sort that the Resort could build an eighteen-hole golf course. The Commission approved the Resort's petition subject to the condition stating that the Resort was not allowed to use potable water to irrigate the golf course. In 2017, the Commission determined that the Resort's use of brackish water from two wells for golf course irrigation was allowable under the condition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission erred in interpreting the condition to mean that brackish water is per se non-potable; but (2) the Commission did not clearly err in concluding that the water from the two wells was non-potable under county water quality standards. View "Lana'ians for Sensible Growth v. Land Use Commission" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta). In 2009, the California Legislature found and declared the “Delta watershed and California’s water infrastructure are in crisis and existing Delta policies are not sustainable,” and that “[r]esolving the crisis requires fundamental reorganization of the state’s management of Delta watershed resources.” It enacted the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009. As part of the Act, the Legislature created the Delta Stewardship Council (Council) as an independent agency of the state and charged it with adopting and implementing a legally enforceable “Delta Plan,” a comprehensive, long-term management plan. Following the preparation of a program-level environmental impact report (PEIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Council adopted the Delta Plan in May 2013, which included a set of recommendations and regulatory policies to achieve the Plan's goals. Thereafter, seven lawsuits were filed by various groups challenging the validity of the Delta Plan, the Delta Plan regulations, and the PEIR for the Delta Plan. After the lawsuits were coordinated into one proceeding, the trial court issued written rulings in May and July 2016 collectively rejecting the legal challenges predicated on violations of the Delta Reform Act and the APA, with a few exceptions. In April 2018, while appeals were pending, the Council adopted amendments and certified the PEIR for the Delta Plan Amendments. In the "merits" case, the issue before the Court of Appeal was the validity of the trial court’s rulings on legal challenges to the Delta Plan and Delta Plan regulations. In the "fee" case, the issue presented was the validity of the trial court’s attorney fee order. The Court agreed with the Council that the trial court erred in finding that it violated the Act by failing to adopt performance measure targets to achieve certain objectives of the Act. The Court also agreed with the Council that the remaining issues raised in its appeal regarding the statutory violations found by the trial court were mooted by the adoption of the Delta Plan Amendments. The Court found no error in the fee award. In light of the mootness determination, the Court reversed and remanded judgments entered in the four cases appealed by the Council in the "merits" case with directions the superior court dismiss the portions that were moot. In all other respects, the Court affirmed judgment entered in each of the six coordinated cases in the merits case. View "Delta Stewardship Council Cases" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Department of Defense in an action challenging the Department's construction and operation of an aircraft base in Okinawa, Japan. Plaintiffs also challenged the potential adverse effects on the endangered Okinawa dugong. The panel held that the Department complied with the procedural requirement that it "take into account" the effects of its proposed action on foreign property under Section 402 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The panel also held that the Department's finding that its proposed action would have no adverse effect on the foreign property was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and/or contrary to law in violation of Section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In this case, the Department met its procedural obligations and its finding of "no adverse impact" was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Esper" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted the Forest Service's request to publish the unpublished Memorandum Disposition with modifications. The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Forest Service in an action alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The panel held that the Forest Service's determination that the Crystal Clear Restoration Project did not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was arbitrary and capricious for two independent reasons. First, the effects of the Project are highly controversial and uncertain, thus mandating the creation of an EIS. Second, the Forest Service failed to identify and meaningfully analyze the cumulative impacts of the Project. Because an EIS is required, and because the findings in the EIS could prompt the Forest Service to change the scope of the Project or the methods it plans to use, the panel did not reach the remaining claims. The panel reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bark v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Beginning around 1915, NPRC operated a Jersey City chemical plant, turning chromite ore into chromium chemicals for dyeing cloth and tanning leather. The process generated hazardous chemical waste that eventually seeped into the soil and groundwater. During both World Wars, the production of chromium chemicals was regulated. During World War II, the government designated chromium chemicals as “critical” war materials and implemented controls concerning labor conditions, supplies, subsidies, and pricing. In 1944, the Chemicals Bureau officially recommended that producers switch to a quicker, more wasteful process. Government orders did not direct how the ores were to be processed, how the chemicals were to be made, or how waste should be handled. PPG purchased the site in 1954 and processed chromium chemicals there until 1963, using essentially the same processes as NPRC, including stockpiling the waste outdoors. PPG has spent $367 million to remediate the site and other contaminated areas. PPG sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607, seeking recovery and contribution for costs associated with cleanup. After four years of discovery, the district court granted the government summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Governmental involvement with the plant during the wars did not make it an “operator” liable for the cleanup costs associated with the waste. Governmental actions in relation to the plant were consistent with general wartime influence over the industry and did not extend to control over pollution-related activities. View "PPG Industries Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Forest Service and intervenors in an action challenging the Forest Service's issuance of grazing authorizations between 2006 and 2015 on seven allotments in the Malheur National Forest. ONDA argued that the Forest Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its application of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) by failing to analyze and show that the grazing authorizations were consistent with the Forest Plan. The panel held that ONDA's challenge is justiciable where the challenge was sufficiently ripe and the dispute was not moot. On the merits, the panel held that the Forest Service met its procedural and substantive obligations pursuant to the NFMA and the APA in issuing the grazing authorizations. In this case, because the Forest Service was not obligated by statute, regulation, or caselaw to memorialize each site-specific grazing authorization's consistency with the forest plan, the panel held that the absence of such a document is not in itself arbitrary and capricious. Furthermore, the Forest Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to the NFMA's consistency requirement as applied to Standard GM-1 in issuing any of the challenged grazing authorizations. Finally, the Forest Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to Standard 5 in issuing any of the challenged grazing authorizations. View "Oregon Natural Desert Assoc. v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law