Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
PNW Metal Recycling, Inc. v. DEQ
In the case of PNW Metal Recycling, Inc., et al. v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) internal decision to adopt a new interpretation of a statute did not constitute a "rule" under the Oregon Administrative Procedures Act (APA).The case emerged when the DEQ changed its interpretation of the "auto-dismantler exception" in the solid waste management regulations. Previously, facilities dismantling and recycling used vehicles were not required to obtain a permit for solid waste disposal, even if they also disposed of non-vehicle solid waste. However, in 2018, the DEQ informed the petitioners that it had revised its interpretation of the relevant statutes, and the facilities would now be required to obtain permits.The petitioners, who operate such facilities, challenged this change, arguing that the DEQ's new position constituted a "rule", meaning it should have been adopted following the APA rulemaking procedures. The Court of Appeals agreed with the petitioners and held the DEQ's decision invalid.However, the Oregon Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and dismissed the judicial review. The court reasoned that an agency's internal decision to adopt a new statutory interpretation is not, by itself, a "rule" under the APA. Instead, a "rule" is a more formal, generally applicable agency directive, standard, regulation, or statement that implements, interprets, or prescribes law or policy.The court highlighted that the APA provides different avenues for agencies to announce policy, not all of which require formal rulemaking. Specifically, an agency can announce a general policy applicable to a case and future similar cases during a contested case proceeding, without going through formal rulemaking procedures. The court concluded that the DEQ's revised interpretation of the auto-dismantler exception and its stated intention to require the petitioners to obtain a permit were precursors to an enforcement action that may lead to a contested case proceeding, not a rule. The decision of the Court of Appeals was vacated, and the judicial review was dismissed. View "PNW Metal Recycling, Inc. v. DEQ" on Justia Law
WaterWatch of Oregon v. Water Resources Dept.
At issue before the Oregon Supreme Court in this case wa whether the hydroelectric water right for a hydroelectric power plant that has not operated for 26 years was subject to conversion to an in-stream water right, upon a finding that such conversion would not injure other existing water rights. The holder of a hydroelectric water right stopped operating the associated hydroelectric power plant in eastern Oregon (the “project”) in 1995 and the project was decommissioned; afterward, the holder leased the water right to the state for use as an in-stream water right. That lease was periodically renewed over the last 21 years, and the Oregon Water Resources Department (WRD) never commenced the process for converting the hydroelectric water right to an in-stream water right. Whether the water right here should have been subject to conversion depended on the meaning and interaction of two statutes: ORS 543A.305 (the “conversion statute”), and ORS 537.348 (the “lease statute”). Petitioner WaterWatch of Oregon argued that, under the conversion statute, the hydroelectric right was subject to conversion because no water was used under that right for hydroelectric purposes since 1995, and, therefore, use has ceased. WRD and the current holder of that hydroelectric water right, Warm Springs Hydro LLC contended the right was not subject to conversion because, even though the water has not been used for hydroelectric purposes, the water has been used for in-stream purposes during the periodic leases of the water right to the state under the lease statute. Therefore, respondents contended, use did not entirely cease in any given five-year period. The Supreme Court agreed with WaterWatch and held that the hydroelectric water right now held by Warm Springs Hydro was subject to conversion to an in-stream water right under the terms of ORS 543A.305. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and the judgment of the circuit court, and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "WaterWatch of Oregon v. Water Resources Dept." on Justia Law
Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun.
In January 2020, the Energy Facility Siting Council adopted permanent rules addressing the process for amending site certificates and other procedural aspects of the council’s work. Petitioners challenged three of the council’s new rules on two grounds, contending the rules exceeded the council’s statutory authority. According to petitioners, two of the rules improperly limited party participation in contested case proceedings, and the third rule improperly authorized the expansion of site certificate boundaries without a site certificate amendment. The council disputed those arguments. The Oregon Supreme Court concurred with petitioners’ arguments and declared the three rules at issue invalid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law
Chernaik v. Brown
Plaintiffs, two young Oregonians, concerned about the effects of climate change and their guardians, filed suit against the Governor and the State of Oregon (collectively, the State), contending the State was required to act as a trustee under the public trust doctrine to protect various natural resources in Oregon from substantial impairment due to greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change and ocean acidification. Among other things, plaintiffs asked the circuit court to specify the natural resources protected by the public trust doctrine and to declare that the State had a fiduciary duty, which it breached, to prevent substantial impairment of those resources caused by emissions of greenhouse gases. Plaintiffs also asked for an injunction ordering the State to: (1) prepare an annual accounting of Oregon’s carbon dioxide emissions; and (2) implement a carbon reduction plan protecting the natural resources, which the court would supervise to ensure enforcement. The circuit court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, concluding the public trust doctrine did not encompass most of the natural resources that plaintiffs identified, and did not require the State to take the protective measures that plaintiffs sought. In 2015, the circuit court entered a general judgment dismissing the action, and the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded for the circuit court to enter a judgment, consistent the Court of Appeals opinion, declaring the parties’ rights. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that as a matter of common law, the public trust doctrine was not fixed and, that it must evolve to address the undisputed circumstances presented, namely, that climate change was damaging Oregon’s natural resources. They argued the doctrine was not limited to the natural resources that the circuit court identified and, the doctrine should cover other natural resources beyond those that have been traditionally protected. The Oregon Supreme Court held the public trust doctrine currently encompassed navigable waters and the submerged and submersible lands underlying those waters. "Although the public trust is capable of expanding to include more natural resources, we do not extend the doctrine to encompass other natural resources at this time." The Supreme Court also declined to adopt plaintiffs’ position that, under the doctrine, the State had the same fiduciary duties that a trustee of a common-law private trust would have, such as a duty to prevent substantial impairment of trust resources. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, which vacated the judgment of the circuit court. The matter was remanded the circuit court to enter a judgment consistent with Supreme Court's judgment. View "Chernaik v. Brown" on Justia Law
Kinzua Resources v. DEQ
The dispute in this case arose from an Environmental Quality Commission order, which concluded that petitioners were persons “controlling” an inactive landfill site and imposed liability on them for failing to per- form the statutory closure requirements. At issue here was whether the legislature intended that the category of persons “controlling” the landfill site would extend to those having the legal authority to control the site, as the commission concluded, or would be limited to “those persons actively involved in the operation or management of a landfill site,” as the Court of Appeals concluded. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended the category of persons “controlling” the site to include persons having the authority to control the site, regardless of whether that authority has been exercised. The matter was remanded to the Court of Appeals to consider petitioners’ remaining challenges to the order in light of the correct legal standard. View "Kinzua Resources v. DEQ" on Justia Law
Citizens for Resp. Devel. in The Dalles v. Walmart
The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) issued a permit, pursuant to ORS 196.825, for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Walmart”) to fill and remove some wetlands on private property in order to build a new store in The Dalles. Citizens for Responsible Development in The Dalles (Citizens) opposed the project and appealed the fill permit, arguing that DSL lacked authority to issue the permit because DSL did not find that there was a “public need” for the project. The Court of Appeals agreed with Citizens that DSL erred in issuing the permit “[b]ecause DSL found that it was inconclusive whether the project would address a public need.” The Oregon Supreme Court granted certiorari to construe ORS 196.825, and thereafter affirmed the Court of Appeals: the matter was remanded to DSL. "[A]lthough we disagree with its premise that ORS 196.825 conditions the issuance of every permit on a finding that the proposed project will serve a 'public need,' . . . Because DSL found that all categories of public benefit from the project were 'inconclusive' but failed to find that the project would not 'interfere' with the state’s 'paramount policy,' the record does not support its determination that the project will not 'unreasonably interfere.'” View "Citizens for Resp. Devel. in The Dalles v. Walmart" on Justia Law
Hurst/Van Dusen v. Rosenblum
In consolidated ballot title review cases, petitioner Hurst and petitioners Van Dusen and Steele challenged the Oregon Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 50 (2020) (IP 50). If adopted, IP 50 would amend ORS 468A.205, which set aspirational greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, including the goal of achieving greenhouse gas levels that were at least 75% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. ORS 468A.205(1)(c). The current statute also expressly provided that it did not create any additional regulatory authority for any agency of the executive department. IP 50 would amend ORS 468A.205 to mandate staged reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel and industrial sources (including achieving greenhouse gas emissions levels that are “at least 100 percent below 1990 levels” by 2050); to require the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) to adopt rules to ensure compliance with the new greenhouse gas emissions limits; and to require the Department of Environmental Quality to enforce the rules that the EQC adopts. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that certain of petitioner Hurst’s arguments that the ballot title did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2) were well taken, and thus the Court referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Hurst/Van Dusen v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law
Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun.
The Energy Facility Siting Council modified its rules that govern amending site certificates. Petitioners challenged the validity of the new rules, arguing that the council failed to comply with required rulemaking procedures and that the rules exceeded the council’s statutory authority. FAfter review of petitioners' challenges, the Oregon Supreme Court agreed with some, but not all, of those grounds and concluded that the rules were invalid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law
Eastern Oregon Mining Assoc. v. DEQ
Acting under authority delegated by the EPA, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a general permit in 2010 for the discharge of certain pollutants resulting from suction dredge mining. Petitioners filed this proceeding arguing, among other things, that only the Army Corps of Engineers had authority under the Clean Water Act to permit the discharge of materials resulting from suction dredge mining. The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s order upholding DEQ’s permit. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed. View "Eastern Oregon Mining Assoc. v. DEQ" on Justia Law
Stop the Dump Coalition v. Yamhill County
Intervenor-respondent Riverbend Landfill Co. sought to expand its solid waste landfill in Yamhill County, Oregon on land zoned for exclusive farm use (EFU). Respondent Yamhill County determined for a second time that, with conditions of approval, the landfill expansion would not create a significant change in accepted farm practices or significantly increase the cost of those practices on surrounding agricultural lands, thereby meeting the "farm impacts test." But petitioners Stop the Dump Coalition, Willamette Valley Wineries Association, and Ramsey McPhillips and petitioner-intervenor Friends of Yamhill County (collectively, petitioners) contended Riverbend’s applications failed the farm impacts test. Broadly, the parties disputed what the farm impacts test measured and whether some of the conditions that the county imposed for approval are proper under ORS 215.296(2). On review of the Oregon Supreme Court, petitioners took issue with both the latest order of the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) in Stop the Dump Coalition v. Yamhill County, 74 Or LUBA 1 (2016) (SDC II), and the decision of the Court of Appeals upholding that order in Stop the Dump Coalition v. Yamhill County, 391 P3d 932 (2017) (SDC III). Petitioners challenged some of the county’s conditions of approval, which LUBA and the Court of Appeals approved, and the Court of Appeals’ articulation of how the county must evaluate impacts of the landfill expansion on farm practices and their costs. Ultimately, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the final opinion and order of the Land Use Board of Appeals. View "Stop the Dump Coalition v. Yamhill County" on Justia Law