Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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Plaintiffs filed suit 15 years after Consolidation Coal began its dewatering operation into Beatrice Mine, alleging that Consolidation Coal damaged plaintiffs' property interests in the exhausted Beatrice Mine and unjustly enriched itself. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that, because Consolidation Coal's water transfer was permitted by a state agency that had been delegated authority by federal law, it amounted to a federally permitted transfer and could not serve as a basis for a cause of action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-9675; even if plaintiffs were to have the benefit of section 9658's discovery rule, they still could not satisfy the applicable statutes of limitations; the level of public notice and publicity that occurred with respect to Consolidation Coal's dewatering activities should reasonably have informed plaintiffs of those activities more than five years before plaintiffs commenced their lawsuits; and the court declined to toll the statutes of limitations under Virginia law in light of the record in this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Blankenship v. Consolidation Coal" on Justia Law

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Virginia Uranium filed suit seeking a declaration that the ban on mining the Coles Hill uranium deposit was preempted by federal law and an injunction compelling the Commonwealth to grant uranium mining permits. The district court granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss. On appeal, Virginia Uranium maintains that the Atomic Energy Act preempts Virginia's ban on uranium mining. The court concluded that the district court correctly held that Virginia's ban on conventional uranium mining is not preempted. The court explained that, because conventional uranium mining outside of federal lands is beyond the regulatory ambit of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it is not an "activity" under section 2021(k) of the Act. The court rejected Virginia Uranium's contention that uranium-ore milling and tailings storage are activities under section 2021(k) of the Act, and concluded that the Commonwealth’s mining ban does not purport to regulate an activity within the Act's reach. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly dismissed the case where Congress's purposes and objectives in passing the Act are not materially affected by the Commonwealth's ban on conventional uranium mining. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Virginia Uranium v. Warren" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, several environmental groups, filed suit against the Fola Coal Company alleging that it had violated the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251, and seeking injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the company discharged ions and sulfates in sufficient quantities to cause increased conductivity in the Stillhouse Branch tributary and waterway, which resulted in a violation of water quality standards. The district court found that the company had indeed violated the Act and ordered it to take corrective measures. The court concluded that, because the company did not comply with the conditions of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit, the permit does not shield it from liability under the CWA. Therefore, the district court properly ordered appropriate remedial measures. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the proposed construction of a twenty-two-mile toll road in North Carolina called the Gaston East-West Connector. Two Conservation Groups brought suit against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (collectively, the Agencies), and others, challenging the environmental analysis conducted for the Connector. The district court granted summary judgment for the Conservation Groups, concluding that the alternatives analysis underlying the Connector violated National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and that the Agencies failed adequately to assess and disclose the Connector’s environmental impacts. NCDOT appealed. Before the district court ruled, however, the Connector was stripped of its funding, and the statute that expressly authorized its construction was repealed. Following the district court’s ruling, the Connector was removed from local and state transportation plans. The Fourth District vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions that the district court dismiss the action, holding that the appeal was moot where the Connector was no longer viable. View "Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation v. North Carolina Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenge the adequacy of the environmental review conducted by the Corps before it issued a permit pursuant to section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, authorizing Raven Crest to discharge fill material into waters of the United States in conjunction with that mine. The district court granted the Corps’ and Raven Crest’s motions for summary judgment, holding that the Corps properly determined that the connection between surface coal mining and public health was an issue not properly within the scope of its environmental review. The court affirmed and concluded that this case is indistinguishable from the court's precedent in Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Aracoma Coal Company, in which the court rejected a similar challenge. In Aracoma, the court held that the “specific activity” authorized by the section 404 permit was “nothing more than the filling of jurisdictional waters for the purpose of creating an underdrain system for the larger valley fill,” and that the Corps did not have sufficient control and responsibility over the entire valley fill to warrant including the entire project in the scope of the Corps’ environmental review. View "Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal. v. US Army Corps" on Justia Law

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Defendants, four commercial boat captains, were charged with violating the Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. 3372(a)(1), after they caught Atlantic striped bass in federal waters and later sold them. The district court granted defendants' motions to dismiss the indictment. The court concluded that the text of the fishery management plan created by the Commission and referenced by the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 5151, in fact regulates only state coastal waters, and accordingly does not regulate fishing in federal waters. Therefore, the court concluded that the Lacey Act does not except from prosecution defendants' conduct alleged in the indictments. The court also rejected the contention that the regulatory regime governing defendants' actions is unconstitutionally vague. Accordingly, the court reversed the orders of the district court dismissing the indictments and remanded the cases with instructions that the indictments be reinstated. View "United States v. Saunders" on Justia Law