Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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

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Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, review of orders issued by the Environmental Protection Agency after a “public hearing” lies exclusively in the courts of appeals. 7 U.S.C. Section 136n(b). For orders issued without a public hearing, review lies in the district courts. Petitioners in this case challenged EPA orders regulating the use of a pesticide named dicamba.   The DC Circuit dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction. The court explained that the 2020 Registrations unconditionally approve the dicamba products, whereas the previous orders had granted conditional registrations. And EPA needed to make additional findings to issue an unconditional registration, including that use of the products would “not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” For those reasons, the 2020 and 2022 Registrations, unlike the actions in Costle and National Family Farm Coalition, did not follow a “public hearing” within the meaning of 7 U.S.C. Section 136n(b). View "American Soybean Association v. Michael Regan" on Justia Law

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The Renewable Fuel Standard Program codified in the Clean Air Act requires all transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain an annually determined volume of renewable fuel. As part of its role in implementing the Program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues renewable fuel standards announcing the annual quantity of renewables that must be sold into United States commerce. EPA failed to meet its deadlines to publish the 2020-2022 renewable fuel standards. As part of its mitigation, EPA issued a rule extending the corresponding compliance reporting deadlines. The leeway provided in that Extension Rule ensures that obligated parties will not have to file compliance reports for 2020-2022 until after EPA has published the standards for those years. In these consolidated petitions, a group of fuel refineries (the Refineries) challenged the Extension Rule. They argue that the Rule violates the Clean Air Act, or is at least arbitrary and capricious, insofar as it provides obligated parties less than 13 months’ compliance lead time and compliance intervals shorter than 12 months.   The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review. The court explained that when EPA fails to timely issue renewable fuel standards, the Clean Air Act does not bind the agency to provide obligated parties a minimum of 13 months’ compliance lead time, nor does it require compliance intervals of at least 12 months. The court likewise rejected the Refineries’ claim that EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in setting the compliance schedule in the Rule. Rather, the agency reasonably exercised its authority to establish the compliance timeframe for the Renewable Fuel Standard Program under the circumstances. View "Wynnewood Refining Company, LLC v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals, the issue is whether overlapping statutes that affect more than two million acres of federally owned forest land in southwestern Oregon are reconcilable and, therefore, operative. The appeals arise from three sets of cases filed by an association of fifteen Oregon counties and various trade associations and timber companies. Two of the cases challenge Proclamation 9564, through which the President expanded the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Two others challenged resource management plans that the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a bureau within the United States Department of the Interior (Interior), developed to govern the use of the forest land. The final case seeks an order compelling the Interior Secretary to offer a certain amount of the forest’s timber for sale each year. The district court entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs in all five cases.   The DC Circuit reversed. The court explained that the O & C Act provides the Secretary three layers of discretion: first, discretion to decide how land should be classified, which includes the discretion to classify land as timberland or not; second, discretion to decide how to balance the Act’s multiple objectives, and third, discretion to decide how to carry out the mandate that the land classified as timberland be managed “for permanent forest production.” Further, the court held that the 2016 RMPs are well within the Secretary’s discretion under the O & C Act and are consistent with the Secretary’s other statutory obligations. View "American Forest Resource Council v. USA" on Justia Law

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Last year, the court ordered the Department of Energy to address three different categories of comments raised during its informal rulemaking establishing more stringent energy efficiency standards for commercial packaged boilers ("Final Rule"). In response, the Department of Energy published a supplement to the Final Rule.Petitioners, trade associations and natural gas utilities that asserted they were negatively affected by a Final Rule issued by the Department of Energy, claim that the Department of Energy's Final Rule again failed to support its reasoning and did not provide notice and comment as required under the Administrative Procedure Act.The D.C. Circuit granted Petitioners' request to vacate a Final Rule and Supplement imposed by the Department of Energy, finding that the Department failed to offer a sufficient explanation in response to comments challenging a key assumption in its analysis. View "American Public Gas Association v. DOE" on Justia Law

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After finding that certain greenhouse gases endanger public health, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) regulated the emission of these pollutants from aircraft engines. The Aircraft Rule aligns domestic aircraft emissions standards with those recently promulgated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”). Petitioners challenge the Aircraft Rule, arguing the EPA should have promulgated more stringent standards than those set by ICAO. They contend the agency acted unlawfully as well as arbitrarily and capriciously by aligning domestic standards with ICAO’s technology-following standards rather than establishing technology-forcing standards.   The DC Circuit denied the petitions. The court held that the Aircraft Rule is within the EPA’s authority under section 231 of the Clean Air Act and that the agency reasonably explained its decision to harmonize domestic regulation with the ICAO standards. The court reasoned that the EPA possesses substantial discretion to regulate aircraft emissions under section 231 of the Clean Air Act. In aligning domestic regulation with standards promulgated by ICAO, the EPA acted lawfully, and petitioners have not shown the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. View "State of California v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency designated northern Weld County, Colorado and El Paso County, Texas, as areas that had already attained a 2015 ozone pollution standard. But EPA reversed course after Clean Wisconsin v. EPA, 964 F.3d 1145 (D.C. Cir. 2020), remanded these designations. In November 2021, EPA folded northern Weld and El Paso Counties into areas previously designated as not having attained the standard. Weld County contends that EPA improperly relied on data available in 2018 rather than updated data and that the data do not support its adverse designation.   The DC Circuit denied Weld County’s petition for review, granted Texas’s petition for review, and reversed the Final Rule insofar as it designates El Paso County to be a marginal nonattainment area. The court held that EPA reasonably relied on the same data it had used to make the original designation and that the data support the revised one. The court explained that Texas argues that El Paso’s 2021 nonattainment designation was impermissibly retroactive because EPA made it effective as of the 2018 attainment designation. As a result, a statutory deadline for El Paso to attain the governing standard passed some three months before EPA made the nonattainment designation. And missing the deadline triggered adverse legal consequences. View "Board of County Commissioners of Weld County, CO v. EPA" on Justia Law

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) threaten the environment because they “can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.” To reduce their use, Congress enacted the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act. 42 U.S.C. Section 7675. The Act directs the EPA to pass a rule phasing them out. After the EPA passed that rule, two regulated companies and three trade associations sought judicial review. They say that the agency exceeded its statutory authority in two different ways and that the Act violates the nondelegation doctrine.   The DC Circuit vacated in part the EPA’s Phasedown Rule, holding that the EPA has not identified a statute authorizing its QRcode and refillable-cylinder regulations. The court explained that the AIM Act gives the EPA authority to regulate HFCs within blends, and the court wrote it may not consider the nondelegation argument because Petitioner failed to exhaust it before the agency. But the trade associations’ petition fares better: The EPA does not identify a statutory provision authorizing its QR-code and refillable cylinder rules. View "Heating, Air-Conditioning, & Refrigeration Distributors International v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Methane is considered the most dangerous gas in underground mining; in sufficient concentrations, methane can ignite and cause a potentially catastrophic explosion. To protect worker safety, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations thus require miners to deenergize equipment and cease work when they detect certain methane concentrations. But during the methane inundation at the Francisco mine the miners did not stop work. They instead continued operating an energized drill, trying to stop the flow of methane. MSHA issued two orders citing the mine operator, Peabody Midwest Mining, LLC, for violating the applicable safety regulations and designated those violations as unwarrantable failures. It also individually cited the mine’s manager as Peabody’s agent. An administrative law judge and then the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission agreed with MSHA that Peabody violated MSHA safety regulations, that those violations constituted unwarrantable failures, that mine manager was individually liable, and that civil penalties were appropriate. Peabody and the manager petitioned for review in this court.   The DC Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that MSHA safety regulations unambiguously prohibited Peabody’s operation of an energized drill in a high-methane environment, and substantial evidence supports the Commission’s unwarrantable failure and individual liability determinations. Further, as the Commission recognized, by permitting miners to work with energized equipment, the manager risked incurring the very hazard section 75.323(c)(2) is intended to address, i.e., potential ignition [in a] high-methane environment. View "Peabody Midwest Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law