Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Minnesota Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the factual findings of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were "insufficient to facilitate judicial review" of a permitting decision, holding that the Agency is not required under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401-7671q, and its applicable regulations to investigate allegations of "sham" permitting when a source first applies for a synthetic minor source permit.At issue was whether the Agency was required to investigate allegations of sham permitting when consider whether to approve the air-emissions permit of PolyMet Mining, Inc. for a proposed mine. Respondents challenged the Agency's decision to issue the synthetic minor source permit, asserting that the Agency failed to conduct an adequate investigation into whether PolyMet intended to operate within the limits of the permit or whether it was instead seeking a sham permit. The court of appeals concluded that the Agency's short response to the concerns of Respondents was not the "hard look" required under the Minnesota Administrative Procedure Act, Minn. Stat. 14.69. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the applicable federal regulations and guidance contemplate retrospective enforcement after the applicant has obtained a synthetic minor source permit and do not mandate prospective investigation. View "In re Issuance of Air Emissions Permit No. 13700345-101 for PolyMet Mining, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court holding that the adoption of a comprehensive plan is not a proper subject of a claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), Minn. Stat. 116B.01-.13, holding that adoption of a comprehensive plan can be the subject of a MERA claim and that Appellants' allegations were sufficient to state a claim under MERA.This appeal centered a claim challenging the City of Minneapolis's 2040 Comprehensive Plan, alleging that the City's adoption of the Plan violated the state's environmental law. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that because comprehensive plans are specifically exempt from environmental review under Minn. R. 4410.4600, comprehensive plans are also exempt from judicial review under MERA. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) rule 4410.4600 does not exempt comprehensive plans from environmental review under MERA; and (2) the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "State by Smart Growth Minneapolis v. City of Minneapolis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that groundwater is a Class 1 water under Minnesota law and therefore subject to secondary drinking water standards promulgated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).In 2018, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit to United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) governing U.S. Steel's Minntac Tailings Basin Area in Mountain Iron and setting a groundwater sulfate limit of 250 mg/L at the facility's boundary that U.S. Steel must meet by 2025. On appeal, U.S. Steel argued that the MPCA did not have the authority to impose the sulfate standard in the permit because the EPA's secondary drinking water standards apply only to bodies of water classified as Class 1 waters and that groundwater is not classified as Class 1. The court of appeals agreed and reversed the MPCA's decision. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) groundwater is a Class 1 water under Minnesota law; and (2) therefore, the MPCA correctly exercised its authority by applying the Class 1 secondary drinking water standards to the permit. View "In re Reissuance of NPDES/SDS Permit to United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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In this case brought by two associations against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) arising out of alleged mismanagement of the groundwater-appropriation permitting process, the Supreme Court held that the two associations stated a claim under Minn. Stat. 116B.03 and that one of the associations failed to state a claim under the public trust doctrine.Two associations brought this suit against the DNR, alleging violations of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act under section 116B.03 based on alleged pollution and impairment of White Bear Lake. The associations alleged that the DNR mismanaged the groundwater-appropriations permitting process, resulting in the lake's water levels reaching historic lows. One of the associations added a claim that the DNR had violated the common-law public trust doctrine. The district court found that the DNR had violated by section 116B.03 and the public trust doctrine. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) erred in concluding that the associations did not state a claim under section 116B.03; and (2) did not err in concluding that the one association failed to state a claim under the public trust doctrine. View "White Bear Lake Restoration Ass'n, ex rel. State v. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Appellants hired Respondent as the general contractor to build a seasonal residence on Appellant's property. Respondent purchased a general liability insurance policy from Midwest Family Mutual Insurance Company that included an absolute pollution exclusion. Respondent later purchased a boiler for Appellant's home that bore a label warning that the boiler was designed to run on natural gas only. Respondent connected the boiler to a liquid propane line. Appellants were later transported to hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning from the boiler. Appellants brought litigation against Respondent. Midwest initiated a declaratory judgment action, requesting that the district court find Midwest had no duty to defend or indemnify Respondent because coverage was barred under the absolute pollution exclusion. The district court denied Midwest's motion for summary judgment, concluding that it would be inappropriate to rule as a matter of law that the absolute pollution exclusion barred coverage under the facts in this case since Respondent did not cause any environmental pollution. The court of appeals reversed, holding that carbon monoxide constitutes a pollutant in the Midwest policy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that carbon monoxide released from a negligently installed boiler is clearly a "pollutant" that is subject to the absolute pollution exclusion of the Midwest policy. View "Midwest Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wolters" on Justia Law