Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Wilton Rancheria, a Sacramento area Indian tribe, was federally recognized in 1927. The 1958 Rancheria Act disestablished Wilton and 40 other reservations. In 1979, several California rancherias, including Wilton, sued. The government agreed to restore Indian status. Wilton was erroneously excluded from the settlement. In 2009, the Department of the Interior restored Wilton’s federal recognition and agreed to “accept in trust certain lands formerly belonging to” Wilton. Wilton petitioned to acquire 282 acres near Galt for a casino. A draft environmental impact statement (EIS), under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321–4347, identified alternatives, including a 30-acre Elk Grove parcel. Wilton changed its preference and requested that the Department acquire the Elk Grove location. Objectors responded that acquiring the Elk Grove location would moot pending state-court suits.The Department’s final EIS identified the Elk Grove location as the preferred alternative. The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs, Roberts, signed the Record of Decision (ROD) pursuant to delegated authority. Roberts had served as Acting Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs (AS–IA), but after his acting status lapsed under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Roberts continued to exercise the non-exclusive AS–IA functions. Black, who became Acting AS–IA in the new administration, signed off on the acquisition.Objectors filed suit before the issuance of the Department’s ROD and unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order. The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Department, rejecting claims that the Department impermissibly delegated the authority to make a final agency action to acquire the land to an official who could not wield this authority, was barred from acquiring land in trust on behalf of Wilton’s members, and failed to comply with NEPA. View "Stand Up For California! v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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In 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists discovered that endangered mussels were dying on the banks of Indiana's Tippecanoe River. The Service focused on the upstream Oakdale Dam, which significantly restricts the flow of water downstream in order to generate hydroelectricity and to create a lake. The Service worked with Oakdale's operator to develop new procedures that would require the dam to release more water during droughts. After a lengthy process of interagency cooperation and public dialogue, the new procedures were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has licensing authority over hydroelectric dams on federally regulated waters.Local governmental entities sought review of the Commission’s decision and the Service’s Biological Opinion upon which the Commission relied. The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part. The court rejected some challenges to the validity of the Biological Opinion, which were not raised on rehearing before the Commission. There was otherwise no error in the agencies’ expert scientific analyses. The agencies failed to adequately explain why the new dam procedures do not violate a regulation prohibiting the Service from requiring more than “minor” changes to the Commission’s proposal for dam operations. Because vacating the agencies’ decisions would subject the dam operator to contradictory legal obligations imposed by separate agencies, the court remanded to the Commission without vacatur for further proceedings. View "Shafer & Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corp. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied the State of New Jersey's petition for review of an EPA rule promulgated in response to New York v. EPA, 413 F.3d 3 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In New York, environmental organizations and industrial entities challenged the revision of the Clean Air Act's new source review (NSR) program for preconstruction permitting of stationary sources of air pollution.As a threshold matter, the court concluded that challenges to the State's Article III standing lack merit. In this case, petitioner has identified two injuries, either of which suffices to establish standing to challenge the rule. On the merits, the court concluded that the record confirms that EPA engaged in reasoned decisionmaking. The court explained that EPA's obligation was to analyze the trade-off between compliance improvement and the burdens of data collection and reporting and articulate a reasoned judgment as to why any proposed additional burden would not be justifiable in terms of the likely enhancement of compliance. By adequately considering NSR enforcement concerns raised during this rulemaking and offering a reasoned explanation for its 50 percent trigger, the court concluded that EPA satisfied this obligation. On this record, petitioner otherwise fails to show that EPA's action was arbitrary or capricious. View "New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, petitioners challenge four provisions of the EPA's 2015 and 2018 rules implementing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone. Petitioners challenge four features of the 2018 Rule: (1) the interprecursor trading program, as well as provisions (2) allowing states to demonstrate compliance with the Act’s reasonable further progress milestone requirements through an implementation-based method, (3) allowing states to choose between two options for the reasonable further progress baseline year, and (4) allowing nonattainment areas to use already-implemented measures to satisfy the Act's contingency measures requirements.The DC Circuit vacated two provisions—the interprecursor trading program and the interpretation of the Clean Air Act's contingency measures requirements—because they contravene the statute's unambiguous language. The court vacated another provision—the implementation of the milestone compliance demonstration requirement—because it rests on an unreasonable interpretation of the statute. Finally, the court denied the petition for review with respect to the alternative baseline years provision. Therefore, the court granted in part and denied in part the petitions for review. View "Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act (EPA) by issuing an easement allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to transport crude oil through federally owned land at the Lake Oahe crossing site without preparing an environmental impact statement despite substantial criticisms from the Tribes.The court rejected the Corps' and Dakota Access' contention that the district court applied the wrong standard by relying on National Parks Conservation Association v. Semonite, 916 F.3d at 1083, which emphasized the important role played by entities other than the federal government. The court explained that the Tribes' unique role and their government-to-government relationship with the United States demand that their criticisms be treated with appropriate solicitude. The court concluded that several serious scientific disputes in this case means that the effects of the Corps' easement decision are likely to be "highly controversial." The court also noted that, although the risk of a pipeline leak may be low, that risk is sufficient that a person of ordinary prudence would take it into account in reaching a decision to approve the pipeline's placement, and its potential consequences are therefore properly considered. The court affirmed the district court's order vacating the easement while the Corps prepares an environmental impact statement. However, the court reversed the district court's order to the extent it directed that the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil. View "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule), 84 Fed. Reg. 32,520, repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The Clean Power Plan was an Obama-era standard that set the first limits for climate change pollution from existing power plants. The EPA considered its authority under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, 7411 to be confined to physical changes to the power plants themselves. The ACE Rule determined a new system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants only and left unaddressed greenhouse gas emissions from other types of fossil-fuel-fired power plants, such as those fired by natural gas or oil. Several groups challenged the action.The D.C. Circuit vacated the ACE Rule, which expressly rests on the incorrect conclusion that the plain statutory text foreclosed the Clean Power Plan so that complete repeal was “the only permissible interpretation of the scope of the EPA’s authority” under section 7411. The error prevented full consideration of the statutory question and of measures other than those that apply at and to the individual source. The ACE Rule’s amendment of the regulatory framework to slow the process for the reduction of emissions is arbitrary and capricious. View "American Lung Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden owned by the nonprofit North American Butterfly Association, lies along the border with Mexico. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planned to build a segment of the border wall through the Center. The Association sued, citing the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and two environmental statutes. DHS has not analyzed the environmental impact of border wall-related activities at the Center (42 U.S.C. 4332(2)(C)), nor consulted with other federal agencies about how to minimize the impact of those activities on endangered species. An appropriation act subsequently prohibited funding for border fencing at the Center.The district court dismissed all claims, citing the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, 8 U.S.C. 1103, as stripping jurisdiction over the statutory claims because the DHS Secretary waived the application of environmental laws with respect to the construction of roads and physical barriers at the Center.The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part, first holding that the claims were not moot and that jurisdiction over the statutory claims was not stripped by IIRIRA, nor was review channeled directly to the Supreme Court. The court held that DHS’s waiver determination defeats the statutory claims, that the Association failed to state a Fourth Amendment claim of unreasonable seizure of property it acknowledges to be “open fields,” but that the Association stated a procedural due process claim under the Fifth Amendment. View "North American Butterfly Association v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied the Refinery's motion to proceed under a pseudonym. The court weighed the markedly thin showing of potential injury by the Refinery against the substantial public interest in transparency and openness in cases involving the government's administration of an important statutory and regulatory scheme, holding that the Refinery has not overcome the customary and constitutionally-impeded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.In this case, the Refinery has failed to demonstrate that requiring it to proceed in its own name will risk the disclosure of sensitive and highly personal information; the Refinery itself faces no risk of physical or mental harm; and the Refinery has chosen to sue a government agency regarding the operation of a statutory program and, in particular, applications for special exemptions from the law's obligations. The court held that none of the factors commonly involved in analyzing a request to proceed anonymously weigh in the Refinery's favor. Furthermore, the Refinery's additional arguments add nothing to its side of the scale either. View "In re: Sealed Case" on Justia Law

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The EPA issued a regulation known as the Pathways II Rule, allowing renewable-fuel producers to use a measurement method "certified by a voluntary consensus standards body" (VCSB), or a method "that would produce reasonably accurate results as demonstrated through peer reviewed references." EPA then issued the Cellulosic Guidance to explain its interpretation of the applicable regulatory requirements and clarify the types of analyses and demonstrations that might meet them.The DC Circuit dismissed in part and denied in part POET's petition for review of the Cellulosic Guidance. The court held that POET's challenge to the Guidance's treatment of VCSB-certified methods is unripe because no such method yet exists and POET's registration efforts rely on the peer-reviewed alternative. In regard to POET's challenge to the Guidance's discussion of peer-reviewed methods, the court held that the Guidance announces a final, interpretive rule that lawfully construes the underlying regulation. View "POET Biorefining, LLC v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Meritor filed suit challenging the EPA's listing of the Rockwell facility and surrounding areas to the National Priorities List, alleging that the listing is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to governing regulations. The National Priorities List identifies hazardous waste sites in most urgent need of cleanup based on the threat that they pose to public and environmental health and to the public welfare.The DC Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the EPA did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by evaluating the Rockwell Site based on measurements taken before the sub-slab depressurization system was installed; by relying on a residential health benchmark when evaluating the "targets" metrics; and in calculating the "waste characteristics" component of the subsurface intrusion pathway. View "Meritor, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law