Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Since the 1940s, the U.S. Navy operated a landfill on the island of Guam, containing discarded munitions, chemicals, and everyday garbage. The Ordot Dump lacked any environmental safeguards. The EPA added Ordot to its National Priorities List in 1983, and, in 1988, designated the Navy as a potentially responsible party. The Navy no longer owned and operated Ordot—Guam did. The EPA ordered Guam to devise plans for containing and disposing of waste at the landfill and sued Guam in 2002 under the Clean Water Act. Guam and the EPA entered into a consent decree in 2004, which the district court approved; it required Guam to pay a civil penalty, close Ordot, and install a “dump cover system.” The Decree states that it is “binding upon the Government of Guam . . . and on the United States on behalf of U.S. EPA.” Cleanup continues; Guam closed Ordot in 2011. Guam sued the United States in 2017, seeking to recoup its closure and remediation costs, approximately $160,000,000. A suit against the Navy under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9613(f) “contribution provision” was time-barred; a suit under section 107 (42 U.S.C. 9607), the “cost-recovery” provision remained timely. The D.C. Circuit concluded that the 2004 consent decree triggered Guam’s right to pursue a section 113 contribution claim, precluding it from now pursuing a section 107 claim and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. View "Government of Guam v. United States" on Justia Law

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Commercial-fishing associations challenged the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was established by President Obama to protect distinct geological features and unique ecological resources in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The district court concluded that the President acted within his statutory authority in creating the Monument, dismissing the Fishermen's claims. The DC Circuit first drew a distinction between two types of claims: those justiciable on the face of the proclamation and those requiring factual development. The court determined that the Fishermens' first three claims could be judged on the face of the proclamation and resolved as a matter of law, and the last claim required factual allegations. As to the first three claims, the court held that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the Fishermens' contention that the Antiquities Act does not reach submerged lands; ocean-based monuments are compatible with the Sanctuaries Act; and the federal government's unrivaled authority under both international and domestic law established that it controls the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. Finally, the court held that the Fishermens' smallest-area claim failed, because the complaint contained no factual allegations identifying a portion of the Monument that lacks the natural resources and ecosystems the President sought to protect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The County and other parties filed a complaint in the district court claiming that DOT exceeded its authority under 26 U.S.C. 142(m)(1)(A) when it allocated $1.15 billion in Private Activity Bond (PABs) to fund Phase II of the AAF Project. The complaint also alleged that the allocation violated 26 U.S.C. 147(f), and challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the FRA under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the County's interest were within the zone of interests protected by section 142 and thus the complaint raised claims that were cognizable under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). However, the court held that DOT permissibly and reasonably determined that the Project qualified for tax-exempt PAB financing under section 142(m), and that the EIS for the Project did not violate NEPA. View "Indian River County v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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States, environmental groups, and industry representatives challenged the EPA's announcement that it would reconsider the appropriateness of, and conduct a rulemaking to potentially alter, greenhouse gas emission standards adopted in 2012 for model year 2022 to 2025 motor vehicles (Revised Determination). The DC Circuit dismissed the petitions for review based on lack of jurisdiction, holding that the EPA has not engaged in final action under the Clean Air Act. The court held that the Revised Determination was akin to an agency's grant of a petition for reconsideration of a rule. In this case, the Revised Determination neither determines rights or obligations or imposes any legal consequences, nor alters the baseline upon which any departure from the currently effective 2012 emission standards must be explained. View "California v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the EPA's rule implementing the "Good Neighbor Provision," which requires upwind states to eliminate their significant contributions to air quality problems in downwind States, by promulgating a regulation addressing the interstate transport of ozone, or smog. The DC Circuit held that the rule was inconsistent with the Clean Air Act, because it allows upwind States to continue their significant contributions to downwind air quality problems beyond the statutory deadlines by which downwind States must demonstrate their attainment of air quality standards. The court held that EPA acted lawfully and rationally in all other respects. Accordingly, the petitions for review were granted in part and denied in part. View "Wisconsin v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, petitioners challenged the EPA's final 2018 Rule, which established overall targets for the fuel market and imposed individual compliance obligations on fuel refineries and importers. The DC Circuit held that all these challenges lacked merit, except for one: that the EPA violated its obligations under the Endangered Species Act by failing to determine whether the 2018 Rule may affect endangered species or critical habitat. Therefore, the court granted the petition for review filed by the Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club and remanded without vacatur for the EPA to comply with the Act. The court denied all other petitions for review. View "American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Alon Petitioners' petition for review of EPA's decision not to revise its 2010 point of obligation regulation requiring refineries and importers, but not blenders, to bear the direct compliance obligation of ensuring that transportation fuels sold or introduced into the U.S. market include the requisite percentages of renewables. The court also denied Coffeyville Petitioners' petition challenging EPA's refusal to reassess the appropriateness of the point of obligation in the context of its 2017 annual volumetric rule, which set the 2017 applicable percentages for all four categories of renewable fuel and the 2018 applicable volume for one subset of such fuel, biomass-based diesel. Furthermore, the court rejected Coffeyville Petitioners' claim that EPA arbitrarily set the 2017 percentage standards too high. Finally, the court rejected NBB's separate claim that EPA set the 2018 applicable volume for biomass-based diesel too low. View "Alon Refining Krotz Springs, Inc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied petitions for review of the EPA's 2015 revisions to the primary and secondary national ambient air quality standards for ozone, except with respect to the secondary ozone standard. The court held that petitioners' arguments, that the primary ozone standard is too lenient because it occasionally permits ozone levels to exceed 0.07 ppm and will allegedly tolerate adverse health effects, lacked merit. However, in regard to the secondary ozone standard, the court held that the EPA has not explained its decision to set a target level of protection against tree growth loss based on a three year average of cumulative, single-year ozone exposures, nor has it justified its decision not to specify any level of air quality requisite to protect against visible leaf injury. Furthermore, the EPA also impermissibly allowed sources that had completed applications for preconstruction permits before the 2015 Rule was adopted to demonstrate compliance with the previous national ambient air quality standards rather than the new, more stringent primary and secondary standards. Accordingly, the court granted those portions of the petition, vacated the grandfathering provision, and remanded for reconsideration. View "Murray Energy Corp. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the Wehrum Memo, which declares that the plain language of section 112 of the Clean Air Act compels the conclusion that a source of toxic emissions classified as "major" can reclassify to an "area source," and thereby ease its regulatory burden, at any time after it limits its potential to emit to below the major source threshold. The DC Circuit held that the Wehrum Memo was not final agency action and therefore dismissed the petitions for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Act. The court emphasized that, when assessing the nature of an agency action (including whether it is final), courts should resist the temptation to define the action by comparing it to superficially similar actions in the caselaw. The court held, instead, that courts should take as their NorthStar the unique constellation of statutes and regulations that govern the action at issue. The court also emphasized that, although all legislative rules are final, not all final rules are legislative, and the finality analysis is therefore distinct from the test for whether an agency action is a legislative rule. View "California Communities Against Toxics v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied petitions for review challenging the Commission's orders permitting Transcontinental Gas to move forward with a pipeline expansion called the Atlantic Sunrise Project. The court held that the administrative record foreclosed the Homeowners' and Environmental Associations' three arguments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); the Commission's market-need determination did not violate the Natural Gas Act; and circuit precedent foreclosed the Environmental Associations' and Homeowners' argument that the Commission's authorization for construction to go forward while their rehearing petitions were still pending—and thus before the Commission's decision was final and judicially reviewable—denied them due process. View "Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC" on Justia Law