Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

by
Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council (“Appellants”) appealed from a district court judgment affirming the Public Service Commission’s order dismissing Appellants’ formal complaint on the basis of a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This appeal arose from Meridian Energy Group, Inc.’s construction of a new oil refinery (“Davis Refinery”) in Billings County, North Dakota. In June 2018, Appellants filed a formal complaint with the Commission, alleging: Meridian was required to obtain a certificate of site compatibility from the Commission under N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1; and Meridian’s planned facility would have a capacity of refining 50,000 or more barrels per day (bpd). Appellants filed their complaint after the North Dakota Department of Health, now Department of Environmental Quality, granted Meridian a construction permit for a “55,000 bpd” oil refinery. The complaint sought a declaration that Meridian’s refinery was subject to N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1 and to the statutory siting process. The Commission determined the complaint stated a “prima facie case” under its pleading rule, and the Commission formally served the complaint on Meridian. Meridian asserted it was constructing a refinery with a capacity of 49,500 bpd, falling outside the Commission’s statutory jurisdictional threshold of 50,000 bpd. Meridian argued, as a result, the Commission did not have jurisdiction over this matter and the complaint must be dismissed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Commission did not err when it dismissed Appellants’ complaint. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment and the Commission’s order of dismissal. View "Environmental Law & Policy Center, et al. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law

by
After Asarco entered into a settlement agreement and consent decree with the government, it filed a contribution action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) against Atlantic Richfield. The district court entered judgment in favor of Asarco, finding that Asarco had incurred $111.4 million in necessary response costs for the cleanup of a Superfund Site and that Atlantic Richfield was responsible for twenty-five percent of that sum.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred in its determination of the necessary response costs incurred by Asarco by including speculative future costs in its tabulation of necessary response costs eligible for contribution under CERCLA. However, the panel held that the district court did not err in allocating responsibility for twenty-five percent of the response costs to Atlantic Richfield. Accordingly, the panel vacated and remanded in part, and affirmed in part. View "ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Company, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In 1948-1981, New Jersey's 65-acre Combe Superfund Site functioned as a municipal landfill. In 1978, Carter purchased the Site. Compaction conducted operations and transported hazardous materials to the Site. In 1983, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) added the Site to the National Priorities List. USEPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) entered into a cooperative agreement that designates NJDEP as the lead agency to oversee the cleanup. USEPA contributed 90% of the cost of managing and performing the work; NJDEP paid 10%. The agreement expressly “negated and denied” the authority of either party to “attempt to negotiate on behalf of the other.”The United States did not file a claim against Carter in its bankruptcy case. In 1983, USEPA notified Carter and others that they were potentially responsible parties (PRPs) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, for the cleanup costs. In 1991 the Bankruptcy Court approved a settlement between Carter and the NJDEP with respect to the Site. In 1998, the United States and NJDEP sued several PRPs; they entered into a global consent decree with several parties (including Compaction) in 2009 for $62.6 million. Compaction consented to a judgment of $26 million but is not obligated to pay unless its recoveries from CERCLA contribution actions against other PRPs exceeds at least $11 million. Carter was not a party to the Decree or the Judgment.Compaction sought contribution from Carter in 2011. The district court granted Carter summary judgment, reasoning that the NJDEP Settlement protected it from contribution. The Third Circuit reversed. A polluting party’s settlement with a state does not protect it from lawsuits seeking contributions toward expenditures made by the federal government on the same site. View "New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. American Thermoplastics Corp" on Justia Law

by
Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Taylor's leases for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), set to expire in 2007, incorporated Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1301, regulations. They required Taylor to leave the leased area “in a manner satisfactory to the [Regional] Director.” Taylor drilled 28 wells, each connected to an oil platform. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan toppled Taylor’s platform, rendering the wells inoperable. Taylor discovered leaking oil but took no action. In 2007, Taylor was ordered to decommission the wells within one year. Taylor sought extensions. The government required Taylor to set aside funds for its decommissioning obligations. For Taylor to receive reimbursement, the government must confirm the work was conducted “in material compliance with all applicable federal laws and . . . regulations" and with the Leases. The resulting Trust Agreement states that it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of" Louisiana. Taylor attempted to fulfill its obligations. The government approved a departure from certain standards but ultimately refused to relieve Taylor of its responsibilities.Taylor filed claims involving Louisiana state law: breach of the Trust Agreement; request for dissolution of the trust account based on impossibility of performance; request for reformation for mutual error; and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. OCSLA makes federal law exclusive in its regulation of the OCS. To the extent federal law applies to a particular issue, state law is inapplicable. OCSLA regulations address the arguments underlying Taylor’s contract claims, so Louisiana state law cannot be adopted as surrogate law. View "Taylor Energy Co. LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 1996, when she was an infant, Cynthia's family moved to the "Acreage" in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 10 miles from undeveloped land that Pratt used for tests that contaminated the soil. By 1993, most of the soil at the site required removal. Cynthia’s parents allege that in 1993-2000, Pratt excavated contaminated soil that was sold as “fill” for the Acreage and that runoff from the contaminated soil leached into the Acreage’s water supply. In 2009, the Florida Department of Health found a cluster of pediatric brain cancer cases in the Acreage. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Cynthia with ependymoma brain cancer, which metastasized to her spine. Doctors detected thorium-230 in Cynthia’s spine hundreds of times higher than would normally be expected. Cynthia turned 18 in 2014 and filed suit, alleging she was unaware of the contamination until 2014. Cynthia died in 2016. Her Florida law wrongful death by negligence and trespass claims were untimely under Florida's four-year limitations period. With respect to claims under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), her parents cited the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows (or reasonably should have known) her injury was caused by a hazardous substance, or until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit CERCLA’s discovery-tolling provision applies only to actions “brought under State law.” Actions under the Price-Anderson Act borrow from the state where the incident occurred, so Florida’s four-year statute of limitations governs. View "Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp." on Justia Law

by
In this action challenging Stanislaus County's classification of well construction permits the Supreme Court held that the blanket classification of all permit issuances as ministerial was unlawful and that under the ordinance authorizing the issuance of these permits some of the County's decisions may be discretionary.Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Cal. Pub. Resources Code, 21000 et seq., any government action that may directly or indirectly cause a physical change to the environment is a project, including the issuance of a permit. Projects can be either discretionary or ministerial actions, and discretionary projects general require some level of environmental review, while ministerial projects do not. In this case, Plaintiffs challenged Stanislaus County's practice of categorically classifying a subset of its issuance of well construction permits as ministerial, arguing that the permit issuances are discretionary projects requiring CEQA review. The trial court found the permit issuances were ministerial. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs were entitled to a declaration that classifying all issuances as ministerial violates CEQA; but (2) Plaintiffs were not entitled to injunctive relief because they failed to demonstrate that all permit decisions covered by the classification practice were discretionary. View "Protecting Our Water & Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus" on Justia Law

by
Sierra Club sought review of the EPA’s approval of new Pennsylvania National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to govern pollution output at coal-burning power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7408(a). Sierra Club argued that the standards wrongly claim to reduce pollution output at Pennsylvania’s most advanced plants while simply rubber-stamping an average of current pollution output as its supposed new gold standard and criticized the proposal’s minimum temperature threshold—a measure that allows plants to nearly quintuple their pollution output when operating below 600 degrees Fahrenheit—as unsupported and unsupportable given the technical record before the agency. Sierra Club claims that the approved standards lack enforceable reporting regulations.The Third Circuit remanded to the EPA, finding that “the regulatory regime which springs forth from these three defining characteristics is neither supported by adequate facts nor by reasoning found in the administrative record.” Given the EPA’s concession that technological advances may allow for a more environmentally friendly standard than the one approved, reliance on a study that is more than 25 years old is neither a persuasive nor reasonable basis for adopting the standard it approved. The EPA is able neither to offer a reasonable justification for failing to require a stricter standard nor to justify the standard it endorsed. View "Sierra Club v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

by
The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) issued a solicitation for the "Deweyville" project, consisting of reconstructing approximately 12 miles of road running through Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The FHA provided a Waste Site Report, which identified sites that a contractor could use to dispose of waste materials and provided access to the “Categorical Exclusion,” prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321–70.2, which stated that waste sites are expected to be sourced at existing quarries identified in the Waste Site Report. The solicitation placed responsibility for licenses and permits on the contractor, including Clean Water Act permits, 33 U.S.C. 1344, and purchasing wetland mitigation credits. Kiewit’s successful bid included approximately $1,000,000 for wetland mitigation fees. Kiewit requested an equitable adjustment for the cost of purchasing mitigation credits for the wetlands it encountered at government-designated waste sites. The Claims Court upheld the denial of that request.The Federal Circuit reversed. The contract documents dictate that, unless a contractor decided to expand the government-designated waste sites, “[n]o further analysis of the environmental impacts of” such sites would be necessary. That the FHA, during the NEPA process, had already assessed the project’s effects on wetlands bolstered Kiewit’s reasonable conclusion that it would not need to conduct further wetlands analysis at designated waste disposal areas. Kiewit reasonably interpreted the documents to mean what they say—that no further environmental impacts analysis would be required if a contractor chose to dispose of waste at government-designated sites. The FHA effected a constructive contract change when it required Kiewit to perform wetland delineation at those sites. View "Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order denying the petition filed by the City of Bozeman seeking judicial review of a final order of the Department of Natural Resources (DNRC) granting Utility Solutions, LLC's application to change a water right, holding that the court did not err in determining that the City's water facility plan did not qualify as an interest protectable from adverse effects under Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-402(2)(a).Utility Solutions filed its change application for authorization to change the place of use of its water use permit. The City filed an objection, arguing that the application would adversely affect the City's possessory interest in the area that was established by the City's adoption of a growth policy, as expanded geographically by an updated water facility plan. The DNRC hearing examiner granted the change application, concluding that although the change application resulted in a geographic overlap of the place of use with the City's water facility plan, the overlap did not result in an adverse effect within the meaning of section 85-2-402(2)(a). The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in affirming the DNRC's determination that Utility Solutions carried its burden to prove the City did not have an interest protectable from adverse effects. View "City of Bozeman v. Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation" on Justia Law