Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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Oceana challenged the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology adopted in 2015 by the Fisheries Service, claiming that the methodology violated the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Fisheries Service, holding that the Fisheries Service has met its obligation under the Sustainable Fisheries Act to establish a standardized methodology. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by not requiring that the agency produce or include on a privilege log documents covered by the deliberative-process privilege. View "Oceana, Inc. v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Corps' grant of a permit allowing a utility company to build a series of electrical transmission towers across the historic James River was arbitrary and capricious. In this case, the Corps granted the permit without preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS), based on its finding that the project had "no significant impact" on historic treasures along the river. The court reversed and held that important questions about the Corps' chosen methodology and the scope of the project's impact remained unanswered. The court also held that federal and state agencies with relevant expertise had serious misgivings about locating a project of this magnitude in a region of such singular importance to the nation's history. Therefore, the court remanded with instructions to vacate the permit and directed the Corps to prepare an EIS. View "National Parks Conservation Assoc. v. Semonite" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted a petition for review of FERC's orders finding that California and Oregon had not waived their water quality certification authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and that PacifiCorp had diligently prosecuted its relicensing application for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. At issue was whether states waive Section 401 authority by deferring review and agreeing with a licensee to treat repeatedly withdrawn and resubmitted water quality certification requests as new requests. The court held that the withdrawal-and-resubmission of water quality certification requests did not trigger new statutory periods of review. Therefore, California and Oregon have waived their Section 401 authority with regard to the Project. Furthermore, the court disagreed that a finding of waiver was futile. View "Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Industry and environmental petitioners challenged EPA's determination that it could not, on the basis of "available information," classify three of the 61 areas under the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for sulfur dioxide as meeting or not meeting the air quality standard, and that it must therefore designate them as "unclassifiable." The DC Circuit dismissed the Board's petition for review and held that the Board failed to demonstrate that EPA's "unclassifiable" designation, compared to the "attainment" designation the Board claimed to have been required, subjected it to any cognizable injury. The court denied Sierra Club's petition for review and held that Sierra Club's sole objection was not raised during the period for public comment and thus EPA's resolution of a petition for reconsideration was not before the court. Finally, the court denied Samuel Masias' petition and held that the EPA acted reasonably by issuing an "unclassifiable" designation for Colorado Springs. View "Masias v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Coal residuals, “one of the largest industrial waste streams,” contain myriad carcinogens and neurotoxins. Power plants generally store it on site in aging piles or pools, risking protracted leakage and catastrophic structural failure. Regulations implementing the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901, were long delayed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), facing public outrage over catastrophic failures at toxic coal residual sites, and directed by a federal court to comply with its obligations under RCRA, promulgated its first Final Rule regulating coal residuals in 2015, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302. Opponents challenged that Rule under the Administrative Procedure Act and RCRA, which requires EPA to promulgate criteria distinguishing permissible “sanitary landfills” from prohibited “open dumps.” Each claim relates to how coal residuals disposal sites qualify as sanitary landfills. EPA announced its intent to reconsider the Rule. The D.C. Circuit denied the EPA’s abeyance motion; remanded as to pile-size and beneficial-use issues; vacated 40 C.F.R. 257.101, which allows for the continued operation of unlined impoundments and a provision that treats “clay-lined” units as if they were lined; found the Rule’s “legacy ponds” exemption unreasoned and arbitrary; rejected claims by industry members that EPA may regulate only active impoundments; found that EPA provided sufficient notice of its intention to apply aquifer location criteria to existing impoundments; and held that EPA did not arbitrarily issue location requirements based on seismic impact zones nor arbitrarily impose temporary closure procedures. View "Utility Solid Waste Activities v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether the EPA had authority under Sections 307(d)(7)(B) and 112(r)(7) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to delay the effective date of the Chemical Disaster Rule of January 13, 2017, for twenty months for the purpose of reconsideration, and, if so, whether it properly exercised that authority. The DC Circuit held that, where EPA has exercised its Section 7607(d)(7)(B) authority to delay the effectiveness of a final rule, it cannot avoid that statute's express limitations by invoking general rulemaking authority under a different statutory provision. The court also held that, in any event, EPA's promulgation of the Delay Rule was arbitrary and capricious where EPA's explanations for its changed position on the appropriate effective and compliance dates were inadequate. Therefore, the court granted the petitions for review and vacated the Delay Rule. View "Air Alliance Houston v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged FERC's approval of an application from Algonquin to undertake an upgrade to its natural gas pipeline system. The DC Circuit dismissed the Delegation's petition for review for lack of jurisdiction because the Delegation failed to establish that it had standing to seek review of the Commission's decision where its individual members did not suffer an injury in fact from the pipeline project. The court held that the remaining petitioners adequately demonstrated standing and thus reached the merits of their petitions. On the merits, the court held that the Commission did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in declining to consider Algonquin's three projects in a single environmental impact statement. The court explained that, for purposes of the AIM Project, the Commission adequately considered the cumulative impacts of the other two projects based on the information then available to the agency. The court also held that the Commission gave adequate consideration to the cumulative environmental impacts of the three upgrade projects. View "City of Boston Delegation v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Once the NRC determines there is a significant deficiency in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, it may not permit a project to continue in a manner that puts at risk the values NEPA protects simply because no intervenor can show irreparable harm.The DC Circuit granted a petition for review in part of the Commission's grant of a license to Powertech to construct a uranium mining project in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The court held that the Commission's decision violated NEPA where the Commission conditioned enforcement of NEPA on a showing of irreparable harm by the Tribe, but lacked an adequate environmental analysis when it first issued the license and the significant NEPA deficiencies identified by the Board remained unaddressed at the time of the Commission's decision. The court further held that it did not have jurisdiction to review the bulk of the rulings challenged by the Tribe because the Commission's order did not end the agency proceedings as to all issues. View "Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC" on Justia Law

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Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club challenge and EPA rule used to determine whether an event caused by recurring activity was "natural," and thus "exceptional," or "caused by human activity," and thus not exceptional. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA protects air quality by enforcing state and local limits on the amount of pollution. EPA need not count against those limits pollution caused by "exceptional events." The DC Circuit denied the petition for review and held that the 2016 Rule preserves the Act's distinct treatment of natural events. The court reasoned that the Act's exceptional-event provision permits EPA to attribute emissions to natural causes when they were also caused by regulated human activity. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Big Bend's petitions for review of FERC's two orders authorizing facilities to export natural gas from the United States to Mexico. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Big Bend's argument that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is an export facility because Big Bend failed to present this argument to FERC on rehearing. The court also held that substantial evidence supported FERC's finding that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline was a non-jurisdictional intrastate pipeline subject to regulation by the State of Texas; the Trans-Pecos Pipeline was not subject to federal jurisdiction; and the court declined to adopt the theory that FERC's involvement in authorizing the Export Facility was enough to federalize the pipeline. View "Big Bend Conservation Alliance v. FERC" on Justia Law