Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2018, the EPA approved conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides for an additional two years. Petitioners sought review of the 2018 decision, alleging that it violates both the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Ninth Circuit held that the EPA's 2018 decision, and the conditional new-use registrations of XtendiMax, Engenia, and FeXapan for use on DT soybean and cotton that are premised on that decision, violate FIFRA. The panel explained that it need not decide whether substantial evidence supports a finding that the applicants submitted satisfactory data, because the panel held that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In this case, among other things, the EPA substantially understated the amount of DT seed acreage that had been planted in 2018, and, correspondingly, the amount of dicamba herbicide that had been sprayed on post-emergent crops; the EPA purported to be agnostic as to whether formal complaints of dicamba damage under-reported or overreported the actual damage, when record evidence clearly showed that dicamba damage was substantially under-reported; and the EPA refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as "potential" and "alleged," when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage. Therefore, the panel vacated the EPA's 2018 decision and the three registrations premised on that decision. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Volkswagen's installation of defeat devices in new cars for the purpose of evading compliance with federally mandated emission standards, and subsequent updating of the software in those cars so the defeat devices would do a better job of avoiding and preventing compliance. After Volkswagen settled EPA's criminal and civil actions for over $20 billion dollars, two counties sought to impose additional penalties for violation of their laws prohibiting tampering with emission control systems. The district court concluded that the claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Ninth Circuit held that, although the CAA expressly preempts state and local government efforts to apply anti-tampering laws to pre-sale vehicles, the CAA does not prevent the two counties here from enforcing their regulations against Volkswagen for tampering with post-sale vehicles. Furthermore, the panel rejected Volkswagen's assertions that the counties' anti-tampering rules were preempted under ordinary preemption principles. In this case, the panel saw no indication that Congress intended to preempt state and local authority to enforce anti-tampering rules on a model-wide basis. Furthermore, the CAA's cooperative federalism scheme, its express preservation of state and local police powers post sale, and the complete absence of a congressional intent to vest in the EPA the exclusive authority to regulate every incident of post-sale tampering raised the strong inference that Congress did not intend to deprive the EPA of effective aid from local officers to combat tampering with emission control systems. View "The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Original petitioner filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), challenging FWS's negative 90-day finding regarding the delisting of the Bone Cave harvestman arachnid as arbitrary and capricious. While the case was pending, the district court allowed intervening plaintiffs to separately argue that federal regulation of the purely intrastate species is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress's power under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses. The district court subsequently rejected the intervening plaintiffs' arguments, but granted summary judgment to the original plaintiffs. FWS's negative 90-day finding was vacated and the FWS then issued a positive 90-day finding, beginning a 12-month review of whether the Bone Cave harvestman should be delisted. The Fifth Circuit dismissed the intervenor plaintiffs' appeal of the denial of their motion for summary judgment, holding that the appeal is alternatively moot or barred by sovereign immunity. Therefore, the court lacked jurisdiction to resolve the appeal. View "American Stewards of Liberty v. Department of Interior" on Justia Law

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After ExxonMobil sought a revised Title V permit under the Clean Air Act concerning an expansion of a plant in Baytown, Texas, petitioners asked EPA to object on the grounds that the underlying Title I preconstruction permit allowing the expansion was invalid. EPA rejected petitioners' arguments and declined to object. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that EPA's interpretation that Title V permitting is not the appropriate vehicle for reexamining the substantive validity of underlying Title I preconstruction permits, is independently persuasive. Therefore, EPA's interpretation is entitled to the mild form of deference recognized by Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). View "Environmental Integrity Project v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Deer breeders Terry Kennedy and Johnny McDonald sought to raise and hunt bigger deer by artificially inseminating whitetail deer with mule-deer semen. Whether they could do so depended on whether the resulting hybrid deer were covered by Alabama's definition of "protected game animals" in section 9-11-30(a), Ala. Code 1975. On a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, the Circuit Court concluded that, because the hybrid deer were the offspring of a female whitetail deer, they were "protected game animals," both by virtue of the inclusion in that definition of "whitetail deer ... and their offspring," and by virtue of an old legal doctrine called partus sequitur ventrem. The trial court therefore entered a judgment in favor of the deer breeders. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed: because the modifier "and their offspring" in section 9-11-30(a) did not reach back to apply to the term "whitetail deer," and because the Latin maxim cited as an alternative theory for relief had no application in this case, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. View "Blankenship v. Kennedy" on Justia Law

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An oil refinery, Valero, undertook a three-year construction project to comply with a consent decree with the federal government and to upgrade its facility. The project resulted in a significant reduction in air pollution. After the construction, Valero sought approval from the regional air quality management district to bank the resulting emissions reductions as environmental credits. It was denied a significant portion of the requested credits. The superior court set aside the hearing board’s decision, holding that the board did not apply the correct standard of review in declining to consider evidence that denial of the banking application was “unfair” under the circumstances. The court of appeal reversed. The agency official charged with considering the application in the first instance denied the credits; applying a local air district regulation that prescribes the methodology for measuring emissions reductions, the official calculated a significantly lower reduction in air pollution than the refinery calculated. The hearing board upheld that interpretation of the regulation; its standard of review neither requires nor empowers it to consider whether applying the regulation to the particular case is "fair." The board is limited to a quasi-judicial inquiry entailing the exercise of its independent judgment to decide if the agency official’s interpretation of the regulation was correct. The board could, and did, appropriately consider Valero’s evidence regarding the fairness of applying the regulation to Valero in addressing Valero’s claim that the district was equitably estopped from applying it. View "Valero Refining Co. v. Bay Area Air Quality" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Secretary's issuance, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), of Secretarial Procedures which authorize the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to operate class III gaming activities on a parcel of land in Madera, California. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary and intervenor. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part as to plaintiffs' Johnson Act claim, holding that Secretarial Procedures are an exception to the prohibitions of the Johnson Act and thus they comply with the Administrative Procedure Act. The panel vacated and remanded in part as to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) claim, holding that the IGRA does not categorically bar application of NEPA because the two statutes are not irreconcilable and do not displace each other, and because a contrary result would contravene congressional intent and common sense. Finally, the panel vacated and remanded in part as to the Clean Air Act (CCA) claim, holding that Secretarial Procedures are categorically exempt from the CAA's requirement of a conformity determination. View "Stand Up for California! v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court voiding a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) allowing the Montana Artesian Water Company (MAWC) to appropriate water, holding that while the DNRC issued its preliminary determination granting MAWC the water use permit based on incomplete data, because the statutory deadline had passed, the application was deemed correct and complete as a matter of law, and DNRC could not require the missing information. DNRC failed to identify defects in the application before the statutory deadline. The district court concluded that DNRC failed to comply with its own rules to determine whether the application was correct and complete and voided the permit without addressing other issues raised on judicial review. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) with or without the missing information, MAWC's application became correct and complete as a matter of law after the statutory deadline had passed; and (2) Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-302(5) forecloses an argument regarding compliance with application requirements the agency imposed by rule. View "Flathead Lakers v. Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation" on Justia Law

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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