Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Petitioners, all environmental organizations, sought to vacate the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission’s (“FERC” or the “Commission”) order giving the green light to Mountain Valley, LLC to construct a new pipeline. That pipeline, the “Southgate Project,” would extend Mountain Valley’s Mainline System Project, connecting its terminus in Virginia to facilities in North Carolina. Its “newness,” as an extension of the nonoperational Mainline System Project, is one of the prime subjects of dispute.   Petitioners also requested that the DC Circuit vacate the Commission’s denial of rehearing. Petitioners challenged the Commission’s Certificate Order and its denial of rehearing as arbitrary and capricious on two bases: the approved return on equity rate and the adequacy of the Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement.     The DC Circuit denied the petition finding that the Commission’s decisions on both scores were reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. The court wrote that Petitioners’ fear that the return on equity presents a market-skewing incentive is misplaced. The long-term agreement shows an actual need for the Project, not an attempt to overbuild purely for profit.   Further, Petitioners do not marshal compelling evidence to counter the Commission’s cumulative impacts analysis. The City of Roanoke briefing lists downstream sediment as a concern of the Mountain Valley pipeline but does not present any statistical evidence contradicting FERC’s conclusions. Further, the research Petitioners presented in their rehearing request, allegedly demonstrating that fine sediment can travel hundreds of miles and therefore will accumulate between the two Projects, is taken from an environmental product company’s website. These sources thus do not call into question the Commission’s analysis. View "Sierra Club v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether the Tampa Electric Company violated OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response  (“HAZWOPER”) standard when employees at one of its power plants responded to an ammonia release without donning certain protective gear.   The case arose when one of the underground pipes became over-pressurized, and, as it was designed to do, the system automatically diverted ammonia from that pipe to the sump. About 45 minutes after the ammonia began to vent, a security guard heard the alarm sounding at the skid and smelled ammonia. He began having trouble breathing and reported the leak. Once notified, control-room personnel dispatched “rovers”—specially trained response employees—to manage the ammonia release   Because the rovers arrived at the skid without a “self-contained breathing apparatus[es],” OSHA fined Tampa Electric $9,054 under 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.120(q)(3)(iv). Tampa Electric appealed the citation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that Tampa Electric’s response to the ammonia release wasn’t an “emergency response” within the meaning of the HAZWOPER standard and, therefore, that the company hadn’t violated that standard. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review and affirmed the order of the Commission. The court held that the release here was controlled— or, in the words of the regulation, that it wasn’t “uncontrolled.” Because the response to it wasn’t an “emergency response,” the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply to the rovers’ conduct. And because the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply, Tampa Electric didn’t violate it. View "U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the water court denying Robert and Carol Hurds' motion to amend the water right for a groundwater well on the grounds that the untimeliness of the motion meant the water court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the requested modification, holding that there was no error.In 2017, the Montana legislature established a June 30, 2019 deadline for exempt water rights holders to file a statement of claim. The deadline passed without the Hurds filing a statement of claim for their exempt water right. In 2021, the Hurds filed a motion to amend a statement of claim under Mont. Code Ann. 85-2-233(6). The water court concluded that it had no jurisdiction to modify a statement of claim for the Hurds because they hadn't properly filed a claim to amend. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the water court correctly denied the Hurds' motion for lack of jurisdiction. View "In re Hurd" on Justia Law

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Appellants brought an action contesting a Department of Agriculture rulemaking in the district court. Appellants argued that the rule violated both the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees.   Appellants contested four aspects of the Final Rule: (1) that collection of a reserve surcharge violates the FACT Act; (2) that the Final Rule violates the FACT Act’s prohibition on cross-subsidization; (3) that the Final Rule violates the FACT Act and the APA by charging both a per-passenger and a per aircraft fee; and (4) that APHIS violated the APA by withholding certain information during the rulemaking process.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in part, reversed it insofar as the challenged rule authorizes collecting fees to fund a reserve after 2002. The court explained that Congress has directly addressed the question of whether APHIS may continue to collect fees to fund a reserve after fiscal year 2002. They may not do so. Thus, the court remanded this case to the district court for vacating insofar as the Final Rule authorizes collecting fees to maintain a reserve account.  Further, the court wrote that all of Appellants’ arguments regarding the dual application of the Commercial Aircraft User Fee and the Commercial Air Passenger Fee fail. Moreover, Appellants’ argument that fees collected from multiple user classes cannot be comingled in a fund that pays for the inspections of fee-paying user classes fails because the FACT Act does not prohibit this form of cross-subsidization. View "Air Transport Association v. AGRI" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission  (“FERC”) gave Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC permission to build a natural-gas pipeline that will run through Appellants’ property. Appellants sued in district court to prevent the pipeline’s construction. The district court dismissed their suit because the Natural Gas Act’s  (“NGA”) exclusive review process precluded its jurisdiction.   The DC Circuit affirmed concluding that the NGA creates an exclusive review scheme for challenges to pipeline certificates, one that doesn’t allow for the Appellants’ district court filing. The court wrote that when, as here, Congress creates an exclusive review scheme, it precludes any other court’s jurisdiction over challenges that fit within that scheme. Therefore, Appellants may file their suit in district court only if their facial nondelegation challenge falls outside the NGA’s judicial-review scheme. The court explained that the mere fact that Appellants press constitutional claims (even facial ones) therefore does not control the preclusion inquiry. Further, the mere fact that Appellants are challenging FERC’s structure does not take their suit outside the NGA’s review provision. View "Cletus Bohon v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) require the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to regulate pesticides, which are defined to include herbicides. EPA issued an Interim Registration Review Decision for glyphosate (“Interim Decision”), which: (1) announced that its earlier draft human-health and ecological risk assessments were final; (2) contained a brief cost-benefit analysis concluding that the benefits outweighed the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used according to label directions; and (3) laid out various mitigation measures, in the form of label changes for glyphosate products, to reduce the potential ecological risks. EPA still planned, among other things, to complete an assessment of glyphosate’s effect on endangered and threatened species, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).   Petitioners filed for review of the Interim Decision: one led by Rural Coalition and the other by Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”). The Ninth Circuit (1) granted in part and denied in part a petition for review challenging the EPA’s decision determining that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, does not pose “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment”; and (2) remanded to the agency for further consideration.   The court held that EPA’s conclusion was in tension with parts of the agency’s own analysis and with the Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment (“Cancer Guidelines”), which EPA purported to follow. Further, that EPA’s registration review decision under FIFRA was an “action” that triggered the ESA’s consultation requirement; EPA actively exercised its regulatory power, completing an assessment of glyphosate’s risks under FIFRA and delineating what constituted acceptable glyphosate use under the statute’s safety standard. View "NRDC V. USEPA" on Justia Law

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An applicant for a federal license to operate a hydroelectric facility must seek a State certification that the facility’s discharges will comply with the water quality standards specified in federal law. The State may grant the applicant’s request outright, or it may grant the request subject to conditions relating to water quality, or it may deny the request, or it may fail to act.The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) decides whether to license hydroelectric projects subject to federal jurisdiction. Two hydroelectric facilities (“Districts”) filed certification requests for both projects with the California State Water Resources Control Board. The Districts object to the conditions that the California Board imposed in granting their requests for certification. FERC denied the Districts’ petition for a declaratory orderThe DC Circuit denied the petitions for judicial review. The court found that because section 401 requires only action within a year to avoid waiver, FERC also rejected the Districts’ argument that the California Board’s denials were “invalid” as a matter of federal law because they were “on non-substantive grounds” and not “on the technical merits of the certification requests.” The court wrote that it agreed with FERC that the California Board did not waive its certification authority under section 401(a)(1) and that FERC’s ruling is not contrary to Hoopa Valley. The court explained that unlike in Hoopa Valley, here the Districts’ requests were not complete and they were not ready for review. The Board’s denials were “without prejudice,” but those rulings still had the legal effect under section 401 of precluding FERC from issuing licenses to the Districts. View "Turlock Irrigation District v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Power Act (“FPA”), 16 U.S.C. Section 824d(d), ISO-NE filed tariff revisions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) to compensate generators for maintaining an inventory of energy during the winter months of 2023–24 and 2024–25. The revisions implemented the Inventoried Energy Program (“IEP”), under which ISO-NE will provide additional payments to generators to maintain up to three days’ worth of fuel on-site and convert it into electricity.  The Commission issued an order accepting ISO-NE’s proposed tariff revisions. Petitioners contended that FERC’s decision to approve IEP imposes unjust and unreasonable, discriminatory, and preferential rates.   The DC Circuit upheld all but one component of the Commission’s decision to approve ISO-NE’s proposed tariff revisions implementing the Inventoried Energy Program. The court left in intact the Commission’s June 2020 order except for the portion of IEP that is arbitrary and capricious: the agency’s inclusion of nuclear, biomass, coal, hydroelectric generators. The court wrote that it believes there is no substantial doubt that FERC would have adopted IEP if it had not included these resources in the first place, and IEP can function sensibly without them. View "Belmont Municipal Light Department v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Respondents' consolidated petitions for judicial review and reinstating the decision of the State Engineer approving the Diamond Valley Groundwater Management Plan (GMP), holding that the State Engineer's decision to approve the GMP was not erroneous.Once an over-appropriated basin is designated a critical management area (CMA) water permit and certificate holders may petition the State Engineer to approve a GMP that sets forth the necessary steps for removal of the basin's designation as a CMA. After Diamond Valley was designated a CMA the State Engineer approved the Diamond Valley GMP, which deviated somewhat from the doctrine of appropriation. The district court invalidated the order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the GMP complied with Nev. Rev. Stat. 534.037 and 534.110(7); and (2) therefore, the GMP was valid. View "Diamond Natural Resources Protection & Conservation Ass'n v. Diamond Valley Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) vests the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission “) with broad authority to regulate the transportation and sale of natural gas. The case at issue concerns the Commission’s application of its pipeline requirement to a liquified natural gas (“LNG “) handling facility in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The facility, constructed and operated by New Fortress Energy LLC (“NFE”) receives LNG from a floating storage unit moored at San Juan Harbor which, in turn, receives LNG from shuttle vessels that deliver LNG imports from ocean-going, bulk-carrier tankers.   While constructing the facility, New Fortress received “informal advice” from Commission staff suggesting the Commission would not assert jurisdiction. Shortly after the facility began operating, the Commission issued an order to show cause why the facility is not subject to Commission jurisdiction as an LNG terminal operating in foreign commerce. In response, NFE argued among other things that the 75-foot pipe is not a “pipeline,” but the Commission disagreed, finding the facility “connected to a pipeline” because the pipe “sends out gas” to San Juan Power Plant.   The DC Circuit denied NFE’s petition seeking review of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s application of its pipeline requirement. The court explained that the physical characteristics of piping are merely a function of the volume of LNG to be imported or exported and the relative distance between the LNG terminal and the ultimate end-user. The Commission also pointed out that it “has never considered” a pipeline’s physical characteristics when determining whether a facility is an LNG import or export terminal. View "New Fortress Energy Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law