Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
U.S. Magnesium LLC v. Env. Protection. Ag’y
US Magnesium sought review of a recent final rule from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In its rule, the EPA called for Utah to revise its State Implementation Plan (SIP) for the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). Under the CAA, the EPA may call for a state to revise its SIP (a SIP Call) if the EPA finds the state’s current SIP substantially inadequate. Here, the EPA determined that Utah’s SIP was substantially inadequate because it contained an Unavoidable Breakdown Rule (UBR), which permits operators of CAA-regulated facilities to avoid enforcement actions when they suffer an unexpected and unavoidable equipment malfunction. In this SIP Call, published as a final rule in April 2011, the EPA requested that Utah promulgate a new UBR—one that conforms with the EPA’s interpretation of the CAA. US Magnesium maintained that the SIP Call was arbitrary and capricious and asked the Tenth Circuit to vacate it. Upon review, the Court did not find the EPA's decision arbitrary and capricious, and denied US Magnesium's petition for review. View "U.S. Magnesium LLC v. Env. Protection. Ag'y" on Justia Law
George v. United States, et al
Plaintiff-Appellant Anne George wanted to corral her horse on her property with a fence. The United States Forest Service held an easement across Plaintiff's land. Plaintiff offered to leave a gate across the road unlocked, but the Service rejected this option, arguing that the public needs unfettered access to the adjacent Gila National Forest. The parties' wrangling dragged on for years but led nowhere until Plaintiff filed suit to quiet title in 2009. In the end, the Tenth Circuit ruled against her. "Whatever legal entitlement she might have had to build a fence across the Forest Service's road she lost years ago thanks to an even less permeable barrier to entry: the statute of limitations." Plaintiff's predecessor-in-interest to the land granted the government an easement for access to the forest, and each time Plaintiff attempted to fence her property, the government promptly removed it. That, she argued, was inadequate for the government to assert its claim to the easement as being fence-free. Under the plain terms of the Quiet Title Act, the statute of limitations began to run whenever a plaintiff or her predecessor-in-interest knew or should have known of the government’s claim: "[o]ne can be on notice of a claim even if that claim lacks any legal merit. . . . [o]ur precedent does not allow plaintiffs to wait until the adverse claims of the title asserted by them and the United States crystallize into well-defined and open disagreements before commencing a quiet-title action."View "George v. United States, et al" on Justia Law
Wyoming v. NPCA, et al
In 1997, environmental and recreational groups began seeking to limit the daily number of snowmobiles permitted in Wyoming national parks. In several consolidated cases, Petitioners the State of Wyoming and Park County, Wyoming filed petitions for review of agency action, challenging the 2009 rules governing snowmobile use in the parks. The district court dismissed the petitions for review, holding Petitioners lacked standing to pursue their claims. Snowmobile proponents filed suit in a Wyoming district court to challenge a 2001 National Park Service (NPS) rule limiting snowmobiles in the parks. That suit was settled, but ultimately the resolution of the suit brought the promulgation of another rule (the 2003 rule) that set limits on snowmobiles allowed in the parks. A Washington, D.C. district court invalidated the 2003 rule and reinstated the 2001 rule. Another lawsuit was filed in Wyoming district court, the result of which invalidated the D.C. court's ruling. NPS then promulgated a series of rules which contained "sunset clauses" set to expire at end of each subsequent winter season. "Unsuprisingly," the proponents and opponents filed simultaneous challenges in both Wyoming and D.C. to challenge the rules. While the two courts fought on jurisdiction, NPS formulated another new rule (2009 rule). Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that Petitioners' argument was moot: "Even if [the Court] were to conclude Petitioners had standing to challenge the procedure and analysis used to adopt the 2009 rule, and if the district court then found NPS had violated NEPA or the APA in promulgating that rule, [the Court's] decision would still have no effect. [The Court] reach[ed] this conclusion because the analytical and procedural aspects of the 2009 rule have been superseded by the new analysis and procedure underlying the new one-year rule. Because the procedural challenge in this case[was] to the analysis underlying the 2009 temporary rule and that analysis has been redone, [the Court held] that the procedural challenge to the 2009 temporary rule [was] moot." View "Wyoming v. NPCA, et al" on Justia Law
Ark Initiative v. United States Forest Service
Plaintiffs-Appellants Ark Initiative, Alex Forsythe, and Paul Smith appealed a district court's judgment in favor of the Defendants-Appellees, the U.S. Forest Service and its Chief. The district court upheld the Defendants' acceptance of a 2003 Master Development Plan (MDP), as well as a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, and decisions concerning a 2006 Snowmass Ski Improvements Project. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the Defendants violated NEPA by approving the project without examining certain cumulative effects-- namely, effects on water resources, endangered fish, forest habitats, and "other resources." Defendants countered that Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their claims, and that the NEPA does not require a federal agency to examine the cumulative effects of its proposed action with those of an unrelated proposal where the proposed action will not affect the resource concerns pressed by the Plaintiffs. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, and affirmed the district court's judgment.
Wyoming v. U.S. Dept. Agriculture
Defendants the U.S. Forest Service and Defendants-Intervenors-Appellants several Environmental Groups appealed a district court's order setting aside and permanently enjoining the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule) which the Forest Service promulgated in 2001. In setting aside the Rule, the district court held that the rule violated the Wilderness Act of 1964 (Wilderness Act) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). On appeal, the Forest Service and the Environmental Groups asked the Tenth Circuit to hold that the Roadless Rule was not promulgated in violation of the Wilderness Act or NEPA. Furthermore, even if the Court concluded that the rule was promulgated in violation of federal law, they asked the Court to nevertheless reverse the district court's order establishing a permanent nationwide injunction. Plaintiff-Appellee the State of Wyoming and Intervenor-Appellee the Colorado Mining Association (CMA) asked the Court to affirm the district court's order on the grounds that rule did not violate the Wilderness Act and NEPA. Upon extensive review of the parties briefs and the applicable legal authorities, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's order that granted Plaintiff declaratory relief and issued a permanent injunction, and remanded the case back to the district court to vacate the injunction.
Rural Water Dist. No. 4 v. City of Eudora
This appeal arose from a dispute between a city and a rural water district over their rights to serve customers in several annexed areas of Douglas County, Kansas. Rural Water District No. 4 brought this suit against the City of Eudora under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the City violated the District's exclusive right to provide water service to current and prospective customers in violation of 7 U.S.C. 1926(b). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit was asked to resolve multiple federal and state legal issues concerning the competitive relationship between the water district and local municipality. Upon careful consideration of the briefs submitted by the parties and the applicable legal authority, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and vacated the trial verdict. The Court remanded the matter for further proceedings solely on the issue of whether the District's cooperation to secure a Rural Development guarantee was necessary to carry out the purposes of its organization. All other issues on appeal and cross-appeal were affirmed.
City of Hugo v. Nichols
The City of Hugo, Oklahoma, and the Hugo Municipal Authority, a public water trust, (collectively "Hugo") contracted with the City of Irving, Texas, ("Irving") for the sale of water Hugo has been allocated or sought to be allocated under permits issued by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board ("Board"). Hugo and Irving brought suit against the nine members of the Board for a declaration that certain Oklahoma laws governing the Board’s water allocation decisions were unconstitutional under the dormant Commerce Clause and an injunction prohibiting their enforcement. The district court granted summary judgment for the Board, and Hugo and Irving appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Hugo, as a political subdivision of Oklahoma, lacked standing to sue the Board under the dormant Commerce Clause. Irving, whose injury was solely premised on a contract it entered into with Hugo, likewise could not demonstrate standing because any injury to Irving cannot be redressed. Concluding no plaintiff had the necessary standing, the Court vacated the district court’s order and remanded the case back the district court to dismiss for lack of federal jurisdiction.
Tarrant Regional Water Dist. v. Herrmann
Tarrant Regional Water District ("Tarrant"), a Texas state agency, applied to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board ("the OWRB") for permits to appropriate water at three locations in Oklahoma for use in Texas. Just before filing its applications, Tarrant sued the nine members of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in the district court for the Western District of Oklahoma and sought a declaratory judgment to invalidate certain Oklahoma statutes that govern the appropriation and use of water and an injunction preventing OWRB from enforcing them. Tarrant alleged that the Oklahoma statutes restricted interstate commerce in water and thereby violated the dormant Commerce Clause as discriminatory or unduly burdensome. Tarrant further alleged that Congress did not authorize Oklahoma through the Red River Compact ("Compact") to enact such laws. OWRB responded that Congress did authorize Oklahoma to adopt these statutes by consenting to the Compact. Tarrant also claimed that the Compact preempted the Oklahoma statutes insofar as the Compact applied to Tarrant’s application to appropriate water located in the Red River Basin. The district court granted summary judgment for OWRB on both the dormant Commerce Clause and Supremacy Clause claims. After that decision, Tarrant took steps to export to Texas Oklahoma water that was not subject to the Compact. Tarrant negotiated a contract with property owners in Stephens County, Oklahoma to export groundwater to Texas and also entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Apache Tribe concerning the Tribe’s potential water rights. In court Tarrant then reasserted its dormant Commerce Clause challenge based on these transactions. The district court dismissed the Stephens County matter for lack of standing and the Apache Tribe matter as not ripe. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the grants of summary judgment on the dormant Commerce Clause and preemption issues, and the dismissals based on standing and ripeness: [w]e hold that the Red River Compact insulates Oklahoma water statutes from dormant Commerce Clause challenge insofar as they apply to surface water subject to the Compact."
Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment v. Klein
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) approved an application by BHP Navajo Coal Company (BNCC) to revise the mining plan at its Navajo Mine. Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and San Juan Citizens Alliance (collectively Citizens) sought the Tenth’s Circuit’s review of the application under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Navajo Mine is a large open pit coal mine on tribal reservation lands in northwestern New Mexico. BNCC operates the mine under a long-standing lease with the Navajo Nation and a surface coal mining permit issued by OSM. In October 2005, after performing an Environmental Analysis (2005 EA) and making a finding of no significant impact (FONSI), OSM approved the application. In July 2007, Citizens filed this case. BNCC intervened. The district court concluded OSM’s approval of BNCC’s application was the type of action which normally requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA rather than the less comprehensive Environmental Assessment. The court then turned to the 2005 EA and concluded it was deficient in several respects. It remanded the matter to OSM to correct the deficiencies and reassess its FONSI. OSM and BNCC appealed the court’s decision. OSM later dismissed its appeal, but BNCC attacked the district court’s decision on all fronts. Citizens claimed there was no final, appealable, order under 28 U.S.C. 1291 because the district court remanded the case to OSM for further proceedings. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed that there was no appealable order issued by the district court and dismissed the OSM’s and BNCC’s appeals.
Sherer v. United States Forest Svc.
Plaintiffs David Scherer, John Licht, Mike Lopez, Barbara Brickley and Aaron Johnson brought suit to challenge the U.S. Forest Service's "amenity fee" through which it charges visitors to Mount Evans national park in Colorado. Plaintiffs asked the Tenth Circuit to strike down the Forrest Service's fee policy as facially inconsistent with Congress's directions and to hold it null and void in all applications. Upon review, the Court found it cannot strike the fee: "for better or worse, the Legislature has said that the Service may - sometimes - charge visitors. . . so some lawful applications of the policy do exist. . . [the fee] might well be susceptible to a winning challenge as applied to certain particular visitors, perhaps even the plaintiffs themselves. But that's a path the plaintiffs haven't asked us to explore and so one we leave for another day." The Court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' case.