Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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This case involves a dispute over the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) implementation of the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standards Program. The program requires the petroleum industry to introduce increasing volumes of renewable fuel into the nation's transportation fuel supply each year. However, Congress overestimated the speed at which domestic production of renewable fuel could expand, leading the EPA to reduce the statutorily required renewable fuel requirements annually.The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by two sets of petitioners. The first set, the Biofuel Petitioners, produce cellulosic biofuels and argue that the EPA's standards are set too low. The second set, the Refiner Petitioners, are fossil fuel refiners and retailers subject to the volume requirements and contend that the standards are too high.The court held that the EPA complied with the law and reasonably exercised its discretion in setting the renewable fuel requirements for the years 2020, 2021, and 2022. The court therefore denied the petitions for review. The court found that the EPA had the statutory authority to impose a supplemental volume for 2022 to make up for volume that should have been satisfied in 2016. The court also concluded that the EPA's new formula for calculating the annual percentage standards was not arbitrary or capricious. View "Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company LLC v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to dredge San Juan Harbor to facilitate the movement of large ships. The Corps published an Environmental Assessment, concluding that the project would not significantly impact the environment. The National Marine Fisheries Service also determined that the project was not likely to adversely affect certain threatened and endangered species, including seven types of coral. Three environmental groups sued the agencies, asserting that they had failed to adequately consider the project’s environmental toll. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant agencies.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the Corps and the Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in carrying out their responsibilities to evaluate environmental concerns. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the Corps failed to adequately consider the breadth of the project’s impacts, erred in analyzing how the project would affect minority and low-income communities, and failed to use the best available science in assessing the project’s detrimental effect on corals. The court also found that the Corps's decision not to translate all materials into Spanish and not to extend the comment period for the Environmental Assessment when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico was not arbitrary or capricious. View "El Puente v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) certification of the Evangeline Pass Expansion Project, a series of expanded pipelines, compression facilities, and meter stations in the Southeastern United States. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf, challenged the certification, alleging that FERC improperly applied the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Additionally, the Alabama Municipal Distributors Group, a municipal customer of Southern Natural Gas Company, argued that a new lease from Southern to Tennessee Gas may mean more profits for Southern, so Alabama Municipal should receive a portion of those profits.Prior to reaching the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, FERC had unanimously issued a Certificate Order to Tennessee Gas and Southern, denying all objections. FERC reaffirmed its determination on rehearing. The Sierra Club and Alabama Municipal timely petitioned for review.The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld FERC's certification of the Evangeline Pass Expansion Project. The court found that FERC's certification was reasonable and reasonably explained, as was its decision to deny a windfall to a pipeline owner's existing customers. The court rejected the Sierra Club's arguments that FERC failed to consider the full scope of environmental effects of the project, erred by failing to account for the environmental impact of two ongoing authorizations to export gas, and was required to use the "social cost of carbon" tool. The court also rejected Alabama Municipal's argument that it should receive a future credit on the existing rates it pays. The court concluded that all of FERC's decisions in this case were reasonable and reasonably explained, and therefore denied the petitions for review. View "Alabama Municipal Distributors Group v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge to a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reinstate a waiver granted to California under the Clean Air Act. The waiver allows California to set its own standards for automobile emissions, which are stricter than federal standards. The petitioners, a group of states and fuel industry entities, argued that the EPA's decision was not authorized under the Clean Air Act and violated a constitutional requirement that the federal government treat states equally in terms of their sovereign authority.The lower courts had upheld the EPA's decision, finding that the petitioners lacked standing to challenge the decision. The petitioners appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that the fuel industry petitioners lacked standing to raise their statutory claim, and that the state petitioners lacked standing to raise their preemption claim, because neither group had demonstrated that their claimed injuries would be redressed by a favorable decision by the court. The court also rejected the state petitioners' constitutional claim on the merits, holding that the EPA's decision did not violate the constitutional requirement of equal sovereignty among the states. View "Ohio v. EPA" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between the American Forest Resource Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the designation of critical habitat for an endangered species of spotted owl. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service originally issued a proposed rule reducing the amount of land designated as critical habitat for the owl in the Pacific Northwest. However, after a change in presidential administrations, the Service reversed its decision and twice issued rules delaying the effective date of the proposed rule.The Council challenged the validity of the delay rules, but after the rules had expired, the district court determined the plaintiffs’ claims had become moot and dismissed the case. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the lower court's decision, affirming the judgment of the district court.The court concluded that the Council’s lawsuit against the Service was moot because both delay rules had expired and had no continuing effect. The court also rejected the Council’s claim that their case fell under the exception to mootness for matters “capable of repetition yet evading review,” as they failed to provide evidence that they would be subjected to another Service delay rule in the future. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, finding the case to be moot. View "American Forest Resource Council v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to call for revisions to State Implementation Plans (SIPs) under the Clean Air Act because of the SIPs' inclusion of certain provisions related to emissions during startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM) periods. Two sets of petitioners, a group of states and a set of companies, challenged the EPA's decision. The court granted their petitions in part and denied them in part.The court ruled that EPA could not call the SIPs for including automatic exemptions and director’s discretion provisions without finding that it was necessary or appropriate for these restrictions to qualify as emission limitations under the Clean Air Act. The EPA had failed to make such a necessary or appropriate finding.As for affirmative defense provisions, the court agreed with petitioners as to certain types of affirmative defense provisions but rejected petitioners’ challenge as to other types.The court upheld EPA's call of overbroad enforcement discretion provisions on the grounds that they could be read to allow state officials to foreclose EPA enforcement actions and citizen suits.The court concluded that when EPA calls a SIP for a substantial legal inadequacy, it need only identify the deficiency and explain why it is substantial. The Act does not categorically require EPA to assess costs and benefits when calling SIPs for failure to comply with the Act’s legal requirements. View "Environ Comm FL Elec Power v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In this case, the District of Columbia sued Exxon Mobil Corporation and several other energy companies, alleging that these companies violated District law by making material misstatements about their products' effects on climate change. The energy companies removed the case to a federal district court, which determined it lacked jurisdiction and sent the case back to a local court. The energy companies then appealed that decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the case was properly remanded. The Court of Appeals held that the case did not fall under federal jurisdiction because the District of Columbia based its lawsuit on a local consumer protection statute, not a federal cause of action. The energy companies' arguments essentially amounted to federal defenses, which the court held were insufficient to establish federal jurisdiction over the District's claims.The court also rejected the companies' argument that the case could be moved to a federal court under the "artful pleading" doctrine, which allows federal courts to hear cases where the plaintiff has attempted to avoid federal jurisdiction by carefully crafting their complaint to avoid mentioning federal law. The court held that this doctrine didn't apply because the energy companies couldn't rely on federal common law governing air pollution since it had been displaced by the Clean Air Act.Finally, the court rejected the companies' arguments that the case could be removed to federal court under the federal officer removal statute and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The court found that the companies failed to demonstrate a sufficient connection between their actions under color of federal office and the District's suit, and that the District's claims did not arise out of or connect with operations conducted on the Outer Continental Shelf. View "DC v. Exxon Mobil Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency extended the deadline for compliance with a revised national drinking water regulation, which in turn extended the deadline for states to enforce conforming revisions to their own regulations. Five states seek to challenge the federal extension, which they say will cause them various harms.   The DC Circuit dismissed the petition for review for lack of Article III standing. The court explained that the states’ uncertainty also is not redressable in this litigation. Their harm is not knowing what future obligations they will face, making it difficult to plan. But the Delay Rule gives the states more time to hedge their bets. Setting it aside would worsen any problem of regulatory uncertainty, taking as a given EPA’s unreviewable decision to consider changes to the Revision Rule. View "State of Arizona v. EPA" on Justia Law

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MSHA’s jurisdiction, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that for the list of items in Section 802(h)(1)(C) to be considered a “mine,” the items had to be located at an extraction site, or the roads appurtenant thereto.  Because neither the trucks nor the facility associated with the citations at issue were located on land covered under subsections (A)–(B), the Commission found they failed to constitute a “mine” and vacated the citations. The Commission also found that, as an independent contractor not engaged in servicing a mine at the time of the citation, KC Transport failed to qualify as an “operator” under Section 802(d) of the Mine Act. The Secretary of Labor (“the Secretary”), acting through MSHA, appealed the Commission’s decision and asked the court to uphold the two citations as an appropriate exercise of the Secretary’s jurisdiction under the Mine Act. In the Secretary’s view, subsection (C) of the “mine” definition covers KC Transport’s facility and trucks because they were “used in” mining activity.   The DC Circuit vacated and remanded the Commission’s decision, allowing the Secretary to interpret the statute’s ambiguous language. The court explained that given the Mine Act’s language, context, and the court’s binding precedent, it finds that the Commission erred in its interpretation of the “mine” and “operator” definitions. And we generally defer to the Secretary’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute—even when the Commission disagrees. But here, the Secretary’s position treats subsection (C) as 4 unambiguous and makes no meaningful effort to address the numerous practical concerns that would arise under such an interpretation. View "Secretary of Labor v. KC Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (“RCRA”) governs the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. In implementing the RCRA, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) promulgated a rule under which waste is deemed “hazardous” if it is “corrosive.” A scientist and a public interest group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (“PEER”), unsuccessfully petitioned the EPA to expand the definition of “corrosive” wastes so that more wastes would be subject to the RCRA’s most stringent requirements. The question presented in this case is whether the EPA properly declined to revise its corrosivity regulation.The DC Circuit denied the petition for review. The court held that PEER’s arguments concerning the EPA’s erroneous understanding of the ILO encyclopedia analysis and its allegedly improper protection of the commercial use of lime-treated sludge are untimely; the court wrote that, therefore it lacks jurisdiction to consider them. Moreover, the court said it was required to apply a highly deferential standard of review with respect to PEER’s remaining claims and found no basis to disturb the agency’s decisions. View "Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility v. EPA" on Justia Law