Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated the environmental court's orders granting partial summary judgment and the ensuing order entering final judgment in favor of the Department of Water, County of Kaua'i (KDOW) in this transfer case addressing the required scope of environmental review under the Hawai'i Environmental Police Act (HEPA) and its administrative rules, holding that KDOW must prepare a new environmental assessment (EA) that complies with HEPA and its administrative rules.KDOW proposed to install an eighteen-inch-diamter water transmission in the Lihu'e area (relief line) that would run 9,000 feet in length and connect to existing KDOW water lines on each end. Pursuant to HEPA, KDOW published a final environmental assessment (FEA) for the relief line and made a finding of no significant impact. Plaintiff challenged the FEA in the environmental court, and the court granted summary judgment for KDOW. The Supreme Court vacated the decision below, holding that KDOW did not properly analyze the impact of water withdrawals facilitated by the relief line and may have improperly segmented the relief line from planned development projects and a water treatment facility project. View "Kia’i Wai O Wai’Ale’Ale v. Dep't of Water, County of Kaua'i" on Justia Law

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The Delaware River Basin Commission banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the Delaware River Basin, reflecting its determination that fracking “poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the [Basin’s] water resources.” The ban codified a “de facto moratorium” on natural gas extraction in the Basin since 2010. Two Pennsylvania state senators, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus, and several Pennsylvania municipalities challenged the ban, alleging that the Commission exceeded its authority under the Delaware River Basin Compact, violated the Takings Clause, illegally exercised the power of eminent domain, and violated the Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. No plaintiff alleged the kinds of injuries that Article III demands. Legislative injuries claimed by the state senators and the Republican Caucus affect the state legislature as a whole; under Supreme Court precedent, “individual members lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature.” The municipalities alleged economic injuries that are “conjectural” and “hypothetical” rather than “actual and imminent.” None of the plaintiffs have standing as trustees of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources under the Pennsylvania Constitution's Environmental Rights Amendment because the fracking ban has not cognizably harmed the trust. View "Yaw v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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The district court entered a Consent Decree between the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas (the City), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the State of Arkansas. The Consent Decree imposed various sewer system improvement requirements on the City over an initial 12-year period. The Consent Decree’s requirements generally include (1) assessing the condition of the sewer system, (2) identifying control measures to address certain defects, and (3) developing a plan to ensure adequate capacity in the sewer system. The City filed a motion for judicial resolution. The district court granted the City’s motion and issued two orders on March 19, 2021, and April 30, 2021. The City appealed those two orders, challenging the court’s ruling that certain severe structural defects had to be repaired by a date certain.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that nothing in the Consent Decree or in Appendix D explicitly indicates that the decision tree only applies to defects with Grades 1 to 3 and not to Grades 4 and 5. But assuming arguendo that it applies to all defects identified in the City’s SSA irrespective of grade, Appendix D conflicts with Paragraph 18. Paragraph 18 provides that all Grade 4 and 5 defects must be included in the RMP. Accordingly, the court affirmed the conclusion of the district court that “the Consent Decree requires the City to resolve the defects in Grade 4 and 5 manholes and sewer lines, and this cannot be accomplished solely by monitoring and maintenance analysis.” View "United States v. City of Fort Smith, Arkansas" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a breach-of-contract dispute involving a stock purchase agreement for the sale of all the shares of stock of International Specialty Products Inc. (“International Specialty”). The selling shareholders were nine trusts and RFH Investment Holdings LLC (the “Heyman Parties”). The purchaser was Appellee Ashland Inc., a leading global specialty chemical company. International Specialty had two wholly owned subsidiaries that went with the sale, Appellee ISP Environmental Services Inc. and Appellee Chemco LLC (“Chemco”). ISP Environmental owned a property known as the Linden property, which for years had been home to chemical manufacturing operations and had an extensive environmental history. As part of the transaction, the parties agreed that the Heyman Parties would keep the Linden property. At the time of closing on the Stock Purchase Agreement, ISP Environmental caused the Linden property to be transferred to Appellant Linden Property Holdings LLC, the Heyman Parties’ designated entity for that purpose. A dispute arose between the parties as to who was responsible for the Linden property’s pre-closing, environmental liabilities. The parties agreed the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the environmental contamination on the property itself. They disagreed as to who was responsible for environmental contamination to areas that were not part of the Linden property but were contaminated because of the activities on the Linden property. Ashland claimed that under the agreement, the Heyman Parties were responsible for all of the liabilities. The Heyman Parties claimed they never assumed any liability in the agreement for the off-site liabilities. The Superior Court agreed with Ashland and found that the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the Linden property’s off-site environmental liabilities. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, however, that under the unambiguous language of the agreement, the Heyman Parties assumed liability only for the Linden property’s on-site environmental liabilities, and assumed no liability for the property’s off-site liabilities. View "The Samuel J. Heyman 1981 Continuing Trust for Lazarus S. Heyman v. Ashland LLC" on Justia Law

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Applicants Christian and Clark Katzenbach appealed the Environmental Division’s decision granting but imposing certain conditions on an Act 250 permit for operating their sand- and gravel-extraction project. Applicants challenged the court’s findings and conclusions under Criterion 5 and Criterion 8 of Act 250. The Vermont Supreme Court found no clear error in the trial court's findings under both criteria, but concluded one condition imposed under Criterion 5 was unreasonable in light of the trial court’s findings. The Supreme Court therefore struck that one Criterion 5 condition and affirmed in all other respects. View "In re Katzenbach A250 Permit #7R1374-1" on Justia Law

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Various parties appealed the dismissal of their action challenging Reclamation’s current operating procedures, which were adopted in consultation with other relevant federal agencies to maintain specific lake levels and instream flows to comply with the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) and to safeguard the federal reserved water and fishing rights of the Hoopa Valley and Klamath Tribes (the “Tribes”). The Tribes intervened as of right but then moved to dismiss the action on the ground that they were required parties who could not be joined due to their tribal sovereign immunity   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, due to a lack of a required party under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19. The panel held that the district court properly recognized that a declaration that Reclamation’s operating procedures were unlawful would imperil the Tribes’ reserved water and fishing rights. The panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the Tribes were required parties who could not be joined due to sovereign immunity, and that in equity and good conscience, the action should be dismissed.   The panel disagreed with Plaintiffs’ argument that the Tribes were not required parties to this suit because the Tribes’ interests were adequately represented by Reclamation. Because Reclamation is not an adequate representative of the Tribes, the Tribes are required parties under Rule 19. The court explained that The McCarran Amendment waives the United States’ sovereign immunity in certain suits. 43 U.S.C. Section 666(a). The panel held that even if the McCarran Amendment’s waiver of sovereign immunity extends to tribes as parties, the Amendment does not waive sovereign immunity in every case that implicates water rights. View "KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT, ET AL V. U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, a group comprised of municipalities, individuals, and a nonprofit organization all based in South Florida, filed this petition for review, claiming that the FAA violated the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”), the Clean Air Act, the Department of Transportation Act, and the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause. Among other things, Petitioners say the FAA’s Purpose and Need Statement was seriously deficient in violation of NEPA; its Cumulative Impact Assessment was improper and violated NEPA.   The Eleventh Circuit denied the petitions for review concluding that none of the Petitioners’ claims have merit. The court held that the FAA scrupulously adhered to the requirements of the relevant statutes and afforded the public numerous opportunities to comment on the proposed changes. The court explained that the FAA engaged in an exhaustive study of the South-Central Florida Metroplex Project’s impact on the environment and noise levels in the affected area, and it found no significant impact. It also provided ample opportunity for the various stakeholders to learn about and comment on the project and complied with all procedural requirements. View "City of North Miami v. FAA, et al." on Justia Law

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This dispute arises out of the efforts of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to designate a new waste disposal site on Long Island Sound for byproducts of local dredging activities. New York State and the Town of Southold, New York (“Southold,” and together with New York, the “Plaintiffs”) challenged the EPA’s designation of the site pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), alleging a violation of the Coastal Zone Management Act (“CZMA”). They appealed a district court’s judgment granting Defendants EPA and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s cross-motions for summary judgment.   The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that contrary to Plaintiffs’ claim, the APA’s arbitrary-and-capricious standard of review applies and that under that standard, the EPA’s designation of the new disposal site passes muster under the CZMA. The court also held that Southold’s claim under the National Environmental Protection Act is not properly before the court. The court explained that New York failed to show that the EPA’s decision to impose additional restrictions on the Eastern Site undermines the agency’s efforts to achieve full consistency with the New York Program. Further, the court concluded that the EPA’s determination that its activity is fully consistent with the Southold Program is not arbitrary and capricious and that Southold’s NEPA claim is waived. View "Town of Southold, et al. v. Wheeler, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the owners of a large ranch in rural North Dakota, filed this petition for review related to their challenge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) renewal of a Clean Air Act (CAA) Title V operating permit for Coyote Station, a coal-fired electric generating plant that is serviced by the nearby Coyote Creek Mine. Petitioners petitioned the EPA Administrator to object to the renewal of the permit, and the Administrator denied the petition on the basis that Petitioners failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that the permitting decision was contrary to the CAA.   The Eighth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that in response to Petitioners’  petition, the EPA has interpreted the term “demonstrates” in Section 7661d(b)(2) to include an obligation to discuss the specific points in the NDDOH permit or reasoning to which Petitioners objected. The Administrator determined that because Petitioners failed “to engage with the facts that [the NDDOH] deemed to be most relevant, the [Petitioners] . . . failed to demonstrate that [the NDDOH’s] justification was unreasonable, or that its ultimate decision was contrary to the CAA.” The court concluded that this interpretation is entitled to deference under either Chevron or Skidmore because it is both reasonable and persuasive, a conclusion other courts have similarly reached. The court thus concluded that the Administrator’s interpretation of “demonstrates” in Section 7661d(b)(2) is entitled to deference. Finally, Petitioners’ arguments about the lack of a notice and comment period did not change the court’s conclusion View "Casey Voigt v. U.S. E.P.A." on Justia Law

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Environmental groups sued ExxonMobil under the Clean Air Act for thousands of unauthorized emissions from the company’s complex in Baytown, Texas. Applying guidance from the Fifth Circuit, the district court determined that Plaintiffs proved traceability for only 3,651 of the 16,386 violation days. It ordered Exxon to pay $14.25 million dollars, lessening the penalty by more than five million dollars to reflect the reduced number of justiciable violations.   The Fifth Circuit found no error in the district court’s fact-intensive analysis of standing or penalty. The court explained that the district court properly accounted for the reduced number of violations in its final balancing of the statutory factors, reducing the penalty multiplier from 50% of the value of noncompliance to 10%. Thus, the district court’s conclusion on economic benefit stands.   Further, the court explained that in considering the length of only select few of those thousands of violations would not fully reflect the extent of Exxon’s unlawfulness. Thus, the court would not disturb the district court’s conclusion that the duration factor weighs for a penalty. The court additionally explained that there was no abuse of discretion on the seriousness factor. The district court considered each violation; it found that the traceable violations involved relatively high levels of emissions and necessarily considered the amount of each violation when it added them up to reach the 1.5-million-pound figure. Exxon does not offer any alternative definitions of “seriousness” that the district court could have applied instead. View "Env TX Citizen Lobby, et al v. ExxonMobil, et al" on Justia Law