Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The California State Air Resources Board, pursuant to Health and Safety Code 39613, imposed fees on manufacturers who sold consumer products and architectural coatings that emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of 250 tons or more per year. The Board implemented the statute by adopting regulations that impose a uniform fee per ton on all affected manufacturers. Appellant American Coatings Association, Inc. (the Association) sought a declaration that the statute and regulations were unlawful and unenforceable, and a peremptory writ of mandate commanding the Board to vacate the regulations. The trial court denied the petition and complaint. On appeal, the Association contended the statute was a tax subject to Proposition 13, the fees imposed did not bear a reasonable relationship to the manufacturers’ regulatory burden, the statute unlawfully delegated revenue authority to the Board, and the statute’s regulations were arbitrary and capricious. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "American Coatings Association, Inc. v. State Air Resources Board" on Justia Law

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Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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Espinoza asked a San Jose city planner to place him on the public notice list for a proposed project which would rezone farmland for light industrial uses. He twice specifically requested a copy of the notice of determination (NOD) documenting the city’s certification of an environmental impact report and approval of the project. The city filed two NODs for the project: the first identified the wrong applicant but the second correctly listed Microsoft as the applicant. The city, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), failed to send Espinoza the legally operative second NOD. Based on the first NOD, which the city had emailed to Espinoza, the initial petition for writ of mandate named the wrong real party in interest. Plaintiff did not file an amended petition naming Microsoft until after the limitations period had run. The court determined that the initial petition was defective for failing to join Microsoft as a necessary and indispensable party and dismissed the CEQA claim in the amended petition as untimely.The court of appeal affirmed, noting its “uncomfortable conclusion" that the dismissal must be upheld. The city violated CEQA by failing to send Espinoza the second NOD but the second NOD was properly filed with the county clerk. It provided constructive notice of the correct parties to sue and Espinoza did not timely amend its petition to name Microsoft. View "Organizacion Comunidad de Alviso v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a permit issued by state and local water control boards that required 86 Southern California municipalities to reduce or prevent pollutants discharged through storm sewer systems by meeting numeric effluent limitations. The trial court found that, because the permit obligated the municipalities to meet more stringent standards than required by federal law, the water boards had to consider the factors identified in California Water Code section 13421, including but not limited to economic considerations, before issuing the permit. The trial court also found that the water boards had not sufficiently considered the section 13241 factors, and invalidated the portions of the permit that imposed the numeric effluent limitations. As to those factors, the Court of Appeal held that, under the applicable standard of review, and giving appropriate consideration to the state and local water boards’ expertise and discretion in the interpretation of the statute, the permit’s numeric effluent limitations had to be upheld. The Court published its opinion because it believed it was important to provide an example of the level of consideration of the factors that was sufficient - especially the economic considerations factor that was not defined by section 13241. The Court's analysis of the issues under consideration by the water boards lead it to conclude their consideration of the relevant factors was sufficient. View "City of Duarte v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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Every 10-20 years, Berryessa Creek flooded nearby Milpitas and San Jose. The Army Corps of Engineers named the Santa Clara Valley Water District as a flood control project sponsor. The Corps was responsible for design and construction; the District was to acquire property rights and conduct operations. Regional Water Quality Control Board staff requested that the project include mitigation of wetlands impacts. The Corps refused some of the requested changes as exceeding the scope its authorization from Congress and the environmental review. The District issued a final EIR, finding that the project would have substantial impacts on some aspects of water resources, but that those impacts could be reduced to less-than-significant by mitigation measures.The Corps applied to the Board for a Clean Water Act section 401 certificate that the project complied with state law, 33 U.S.C. 1341. Because the Corps’ application did not contain wetlands mitigation, the Board deemed the application incomplete. There was pressure to protect a BART station under construction and to avoid losing federal funding. The Board agreed to issue a section 401 certification, indicating that it would subsequently issue waste discharge requirements (WDRs) under the Porter-Cologne Act to address issues that were not handled under the certification. The Board later issued a WDR order requiring additional mitigation, stating that it was rescinding and superseding the section 401 certification, and required enhancement of 15 acres of waters of the state. The Board was willing to allow another of the District’s planned projects to satisfy the requirement.The State Board denied the District’s petition for review. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of relief. The District has not shown that the allegedly invalid rescission and reissue of the section 401 certification would justify reversal; the Porter-Cologne Act provides independent authority for the WDR order. View "Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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The Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) proceeding litigated whether the water supply from natural and imported sources, which replenishes an alluvial basin from which numerous parties pumped water, was inadequate to meet the competing annual demands of those water producers, thereby creating an "overdraft" condition. Phelan ultimately became involved in the litigation as one of the thousands of entities and people who asserted they were entitled to draw water from the aquifer.The trial court subsequently defined the boundaries for the AVAA to determine which parties would be necessary parties to any global adjudication of water rights, and then determined that the aquifer encompassed within the AVAA boundaries (the AVAA basin) had sufficient hydrologic interconnectivity and conductivity to be defined as a single aquifer for purposes of adjudicating the competing groundwater rights claims. Settlement discussions ultimately produced an agreement among the vast majority of parties in which they settled their respective groundwater rights claims and agreed to support the contours of a proposed plan (the Physical Solution) designed to bring the AVAA basin into hydrological balance. Phelan, which provides water to its customers who are located outside the AVAA boundaries, became subject to the AVGC litigation because a significant source of its water is pumping from a well located in the AVAA basin.The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supports the judgment as to Phelan and Phelan was not deprived of its due process rights to present its claims. In this case, substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Physical Solution will bring the AVAA basin into balance; the trial court correctly rejected Phelan's fourth cause of action asserting it had acquired water rights as a "public use appropriator;" the phased decisional procedure did not deprive Phelan of due process; and the trial court correctly concluded that Phelan had no priority claim to return flows from native safe yield. View "Phelan Piñon Hills Community Services District v. California Water Service Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal involves the application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to a proposed master-planned community. In the published portion of this opinion, the Court of Appeal provided two alternate grounds for rejecting Developer's contention that the writ of mandate should have directed a partial decertification of the environmental impact report (EIR).First, the statutes require the public agency to certify "the completion of" the EIR. The court again rejected the statutory interpretation that allows for partial certification because an EIR is either completed in compliance with CEQA or it is not so completed. Second, even if CEQA is interpreted to allow for partial certification, it is inappropriate in this case because the CEQA violations affect the adoption of the statement of overriding considerations and, thus, taint the certification of the EIR as a whole. In other words, severance findings under Public Resources Code section 21168.9, subdivision (b) are not appropriate in the circumstances of this case. The court affirmed the judgment and directed the trial court to issue an amended writ of mandate. View "Sierra Club v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law

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Defendants, who at the time of trial were current or former California Coastal Commissioners (Commissioners), appealed a nearly $1 million judgment after the court found they violated statutes requiring disclosure of certain ex parte communications. The Court of Appeal surmised the case turned on whether: (1) plaintiff Spotlight on Coastal Corruption (Spotlight) had standing to pursue these claims under Public Resources Code sections 30324 and 30327; and (2) the up to $30,000 penalty for “any” violation of the Coastal Act in section 30820(a)(2) applied to such ex parte disclosure violations. Concluding that Spotlight lacked standing and that section 30820(a)(2) was inapplicable, the Court reversed with directions to enter judgment for Defendants. View "Spotlight on Coastal Corruption v. Kinsey" on Justia Law

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Environmental groups challenged the constitutionality of Public Resources Code section 25531, which limits judicial review of decisions by the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission on the siting of thermal power plants. Section 25531(a) provides that an Energy Commission siting decision is “subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court of California.” The plaintiffs contend this provision abridges the original jurisdiction of the superior courts and courts of appeal over mandate petitions, as conferred by California Constitution Article VI, section 10. Section 25531(b) provides that findings of fact in support of a Commission siting determination “are final,” allegedly violating the separation of powers doctrine by depriving courts of their essential power to review administrative agency findings (Cal. Const., Art. III, section 3; Art. VI, section 1).The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The Article VI grant of original jurisdiction includes the superior courts and courts of appeal and may not be circumscribed by statute, absent some other constitutional provision. Legislative amendments to section 25531 have broken the once-tight link between the regulatory authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Energy Commission power plant siting decisions, such that the plenary power Article XII grants the Legislature over PUC activities no longer authorizes section 25531(a). Section 25531(b) violates the judicial powers clause by preventing courts from reviewing whether substantial evidence supports the Commission’s factual findings. View "Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission" on Justia Law

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Proposition 65 was enacted by the voters to protect the people of California and its water supply from harmful chemicals. Proposition 65 required the Governor to publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Proposition 65 added Health and Safety Code section 25249.8, which provided the listing obligations and sets forth four independent “listing mechanisms” by which a chemical could be listed, including the “state’s qualified expert” listing mechanism and the “authoritative body” listing mechanism. At issue in this case was whether the decision by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to list Bisphenol A (BPA) as a chemical known to cause reproductive toxicity under Proposition 65, was an abuse of discretion. BPA is used primarily to coat food and beverage packaging and containers. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) commenced this action seeking to enjoin OEHHA from listing BPA. In an amended complaint, ACC sought a peremptory writ of mandate directing OEHHA not to list BPA. The trial court denied the requested relief. ACC appealed, asserting that OEHHA abused its discretion in: (1) refusing to consider the arguments against listing BPA; (2) concluding that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) formally identified BPA as a reproductive toxicant in the monograph; and (3) determining that NTP concluded that studies in experimental animals indicated that there was sufficient data to establish that an association between adverse reproductive effects in humans and BPA is “biologically plausible” within the meaning of that term as it was used in OEHHA’s own regulation. The Court of Appeal found OEHHA’s position as to biological plausibility was based on, among other things, the presumption that chemicals that cause harm in experimental animals will also cause similar harm in humans in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The Court concluded OEHHA did not abuse its discretion in listing BPA based on the monograph. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying ACC the relief requested in the amended complaint. View "Am. Chemistry Council v. Off. of Environ. Health Hazard Assessment" on Justia Law