Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court reviewed a final order of the Department of State Lands (DSL) that granted a permit to the Port of Coos Bay (Port) in connection with the construction of a deep water marine terminal in Coos Bay. The permit allowed the Port to dredge 1.75 million cubic yards of material from the bay, while also imposing a number of conditions to address environmental concerns. Petitioners were environmental advocacy groups who argued the Port’s application did not meet the requirements for issuing a permit set out in ORS 196.825. An Administrative Law Judge held a contested case hearing and rejected petitioners’ arguments. DSL reviewed the conclusions of the ALJ and issued a final order affirming the permit. The Court of Appeals affirmed DSL’s final order. Petitioners contended DSL erred in failing to consider evidence of certain negative effects of the construction and operation of the terminal in the permit application review process. The Oregon Supreme Court held DSL properly considered the criteria set out in ORS 196.825 and did not err in granting the permit. View "Coos Waterkeeper v. Port of Coos Bay" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the standard of liability for violations of two provisions of the hazardous waste laws: 40 CFR section 263.20(a)(1), as adopted by OAR 340-100-0002(1), and ORS 466.095(1)(c). The Department of Environmental Quality (the department) assessed civil penalties against petitioner, Oil Re-Refining Company (ORRCO), after it determined that ORRCO had accepted hazardous waste without a proper manifest form and treated hazardous waste without a proper permit. ORRCO conceded the factual basis for those allegations but asserted a reasonable-reliance defense: namely, that it reasonably relied on assurances by the generator of the waste that the material ORRCO transported and treated was not a hazardous waste, and, therefore, did not require the manifest and permit at issue. The Environmental Quality Commission (the commission) refused to consider ORRCO’s defense, because it interpreted the relevant provisions as imposing a strict liability standard. The Court of Appeals agreed with the commission’s interpretations and affirmed its final order finding various violations and imposing civil penalties. On appeal to the Supreme Court ORRCO argued that the commission should have considered its reasonable reliance defense and that the commission had erred in interpreting the relevant provisions as imposing a standard of strict liability. The Supreme Court rejected ORRCO’s argument because it ignored statutory and regulatory context indicating that a transporter’s or operator’s level of culpability is immaterial to establishing a violation of the relevant provisions. View "Oil Re-Refining Co. v. Environmental Quality Comm." on Justia Law