Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

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NRIC challenged the Sixth Northwest Power Plan (the Plan) that the Council adopted in May 2010. NRIC argued that the Plan failed to give due consideration for protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife as the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act (the Power Act), 16 U.S.C. 839-839h, required. The court concluded that the NRIC had not pointed to any part of the Power Act that required the Council to reconsider fish and wildlife measures in light of its evaluation of the regional power system from the subsequent power-planning process. Absent such a showing, the court would not second-guess the due consideration that the Council gave to fish and wildlife interests in the adoption of the Plan. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Plan with respect to NRIC's due-consideration challenge. The court remanded, however, the Plan to the Council for the limited purposes of (1) allowing public notice and comment on the proposed methodology for determining quantifiable environmental costs and benefits, and (2) reconsidering the inclusion in the Plan of the BPA's estimate of the 2009 Program's costs to hydrosystem operations. View "NW Res. Inf. Ctr. v. NW Power & Conserv. Council" on Justia Law

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The Conservancy alleged that the United States was improperly diverting water from Icicle Creek, a tributary of the Wenatchee River, to the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and otherwise violating Washington state law. The court dismissed the action, concluding that the Conservancy lacked prudential standing to bring its claim that the Hatchery operation violated the Washington water code, and that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the Conservancy's other claims because they either did not challenge final agency action or rested on provisions of Washington law that were not incorporated into federal reclamation law. View "Wild Fish Conservancy v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Drakes Bay challenged the Secretary's discretionary decision to let Drakes Bay's permit for commercial oyster farming expire according to its terms. Drakes Bay subsequently sought a preliminary injunction under Section 124 of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and various federal regulations. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that it had jurisdiction to consider whether the Secretary violated constitutional, regulatory, or other legal mandates or restrictions. On the merits, the court concluded that a preliminary injunction was not warranted where the likelihood of success on the merits of these claims was too remote to justify the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction. Congress left the decision to grant or deny an extension to the Secretary's discretion; the Secretary neither violated any statutory mandate nor did he misapprehend his authority under the various statutes raised by Drakes Bay; even if NEPA compliance was required in this instance, the Secretary conducted an adequate NEPA review process; and Drakes Bay lacked standing to challenge the publication of the notice in the Federal Registrar. Further, Drakes Bay has failed to show that the balance of the equities weighs in its favor. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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This case arose when the EPA sent two letters to Anderson notifying Anderson of its potential liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq., for environmental contamination of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Anderson's general liability insurer, St. Paul, declined to provide Anderson with a legal defense. St. Paul argued that the letters sent to Anderson were not "suits" because they were not filed in a court of law. The court held that the letters were "suits" within the meaning of the policies; the letters alleged facts sufficient to alert Anderson to its potential liability for environmental contamination under CERCLA; and, therefore, St. Paul breached its duty to defend Anderson. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of Anderson and also affirmed the attorney's fee award in Anderson's favor in light of the court's holding on the merits. View "Anderson Bros. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged the EPA's permit allowing Shell to construct, operate, and conduct "pollutant emitting activities" associated with a drill vessel (the "Kulluk") in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's North Slope. The court rejected Plaintiff's argument that the Environmental Appeals Board's (EAB) Decision was not entitled to Chevron deference; Section 7661c(e) of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7661c(e), was ambiguous, and the EPA's interpretation was reasonable under the applicable statutes' plain language; the court owed Chevron deference to the EAB Decision not to require a preconstruction increment analysis for the "Kulluk;" and the EPA permissibly granted a 500-meter exemption to the "Kulluk" from "ambient air" standards. View "Alaska Wilderness League v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Environmental groups challenged the BLM's Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. The court concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs' Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. 1782(a), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C), claims; held that the district court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiffs' National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), 16 U.S.C. 470f, claims; and vacated that portion of the judgment and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the NHPA claim and to enter an appropriate order requiring BLM to conduct Class III surveys with respect to roads, ways, and airstrips that have not been subject to recent Class III surveys. View "Montana Wilderness Ass'n v. Connell" on Justia Law

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This case concerned applications to transfer water rights from agricultural land in the Newlands Reclamation Project to the Carson Lake and Pasture, a wildlife refuge located within the Lahontan Valley wetlands at the terminus of the Carson River. At issue was whether diverting water to wetlands in order to sustain wildlife habitat constituted "irrigation." Concluding that the Tribe had Article III standing, the court held that diversion of water for waterfowl habitat was not "irrigation" within the meaning of the Alpine decree. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe v. Nevada" on Justia Law

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These five appeals concerned seepage over several decades of a toxic dry cleaning chemical into the ground under a Las Vegas shopping center. The court concluded that the application of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq., to soil and groundwater contamination in Nevada did not offend the Commerce Clause; Maryland Square had not shown that it qualified for an exception to CERCLA liability, and it was clearly responsible for reimbursement under Nevada state law; NDEP was entitled to summary judgment against the operator, SBIC, on the CERCLA and state law claims; the district court did not decide the issue raised by Maryland Square's motion for reconsideration, so remand was required to determine whether Maryland Square had Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq., liability for exposing the contamination to the elements; SBIC was liable to the previous owners under the indemnification provisions of the 1968 and 1982 leases; and the district court erred in holding Melvin Shapiro liable on his personal guaranty because the guaranty operated only prospectively and there was no evidence of spills occurring after he signed the guaranty. View "Voggenthaler v. Maryland Square" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the NMFS's limitations on commercial fishing in certain areas of the Pacific Ocean off Alaska. The agency limited commercial fishing in the areas where the western Distinct Population Segment of the Steller sea lions (wDPS) were experiencing population declines and showing signs of nutritional stress. The court held that the use of sub-regions, rather than in the entire population of the endangered species, did not violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531. Further, the agency utilized appropriate standards to find that continuing previous fishing levels in those sub-regions would adversely modify the critical habitat and jeopardize the continued existence of the entire population. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting plaintiffs' claims. View "State of Alaska v. Lubchenco" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved litigation over how much water from the Truckee and Carson Rivers should be diverted to irrigation and how much should flow into Pyramid Lake for the benefit of the Tribe. At issue was the court's ruling in United States v. Bell, which concerned the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District (TCID). The court concluded that it's understanding of the scope of the gauge error claim - the margin of error with respect to the gauges that measured the flow of the diversions - in Bell was mistaken and the court should have ordered recalculation of the gauge error's impact in all the years potentially affected. Accordingly, the court withdrew its earlier mandate and clarified it by ordering the district court to recalculate the effect of gauge error, not only for the years, 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979, but for the years 1973, 1976, 1985, and 1986 as well, to determine the amount of any excess diversions. View "United States v. Board of Directors" on Justia Law