Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court
PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana
This case concerned three rivers which flow through Montana and then beyond its borders. At issue was whether discrete, identifiable segments of these rivers in Montana were nonnavigable, as federal law defined that concept for purposes of determining whether the State acquired title to the riverbeds underlying those segments, when the State entered the Union in 1989. Montana contended that the rivers must be found navigable at the disputed locations. The Court held that the Montana Supreme Court's ruling that Montana owned and could charge for use of the riverbeds at issue was based on an infirm legal understanding of the Court's rules of navigability for title under the equal-footing doctrine. The Montana Supreme Court erred in its treatment of the question of river segments and portage and erred as a matter of law in relying on evidence of present-day primarily recreational use of the Madison River. Because this analysis was sufficient to require reversal, the Court declined to decide whether the State Supreme Court also erred as to the burden of proof regarding navigability. Montana's suggestion that denying the State title to the disputed riverbeds would undermine the public trust doctrine underscored its misapprehension of the equal-footing and public trust doctrines. Finally, the reliance by petitioner and its predecessors in title on the State's long failure to assert title to the riverbeds was some evidence supporting the conclusion that the river segments over those beds were nonnavigable for purposes of the equal-footing doctrine. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed. View "PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana" on Justia Law
American Elec. Power Co., et al. v. Connecticut, et al.
Plaintiffs, several states, the city of New York, and three private land trusts, sued defendants, four private power companies and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority, alleging that defendants' emissions substantially and unreasonably interfered with public rights in violation of the federal common law of interstate nuisance, or in the alternative, of state tort law. Plaintiffs sought a decree setting carbon-dioxide emissions for each defendant at an initial cap to be further reduced annually. At issue was whether plaintiffs could maintain federal common law public nuisance claims against carbon-dioxide emitters. As a preliminary matter, the Court affirmed, by an equally divided Court, the Second Circuit's exercise of jurisdiction and proceeded to the merits. The Court held that the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, and the Environmental Protection Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. 7411, action the Act authorized displaced any federal common-law right to seek abatement of carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants. The Court also held that the availability vel non of a state lawsuit depended, inter alia, on the preemptive effect of the federal Act. Because none of the parties have briefed preemption or otherwise addressed the availability of a claim under state nuisance law, the matter was left for consideration on remand. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Montana v. Wyoming
Montana alleged that Wyoming breached Article V(A) of the Yellowstone River Compact ("Compact"), 65 Stat. 666, by allowing its pre-1950 water appropriators to increase their net water consumption by improving the efficiency of their irrigation systems where the new systems employed sprinklers that reduced the amount of wastewater returned to the river, thus depriving Montana's downstream pre-1950 appropriators of water to which they were entitled. At issue was whether Article V(A) allowed Wyoming's pre-1950's water users, diverting the same quantity of water for the same irrigation purpose and acreage as before 1950, to increase their consumption of water by improving their irrigation systems even if it reduced the flow of water to Montana's pre-1950 users. The Court held that Montana's increased-efficiency allegation failed to state a claim for breach of the Compact under Article V(A) where Article V(A) incorporated the ordinary doctrine of appropriation without significant qualification and where, in Wyoming and Montana, that doctrine allowed appropriators to improve their irrigation systems, even to the detriment of downstream appropriators.