Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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The National Marine Fisheries Service licenses fisheries in federal waters. In doing so, the Service must comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That Act requires the Service to prepare an “opinion,” commonly known as a biological opinion, “detailing how the fishery affects” any endangered or threatened species. Using “the best scientific and commercial data available,” the Service’s opinion must determine whether the federal fishery is “not likely” to jeopardize the survival of a protected species. At issue is whether, in a biological opinion, the Service must, or even may, when faced with uncertainty, give the “benefit of the doubt” to an endangered species by relying upon worst-case scenarios or pessimistic assumptions.   The DC Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Service and directed the court to enter summary judgment for the lobstermen on count one of their complaints. Because the Service has raised no independent defense to count four of the complaint, the court directed the district court to enter summary judgment for the lobstermen on count four. The court further directed the district court to vacate the biological opinion as applied to the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries and to remand the phase one rule to the Service. View "Maine Lobstermen's Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service" on Justia Law

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The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) prescribe safety standards for pipelines on behalf of the Secretary of Transportation. Two oil and gas associations, GPA Midstream and the American Petroleum Institute, petitioned for review of a safety standard requiring their members to install remote-controlled or automatic shut-off valves in some types of new or replaced gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Petitioners challenged the standard as it applies to “gathering” pipelines used to collect raw gas or crude oil from a well. They argued the PHMSA unlawfully failed to disclose the economic basis for regulating gathering pipelines when it proposed the standard and also failed to make a reasoned determination that regulating these pipelines was appropriate.   The DC Circuit granted the petition. The court explained that the PHMSA said nothing about the practicability or the costs and benefits of the standard for gathering pipelines until promulgating the final rule, even though the law required it to address those subjects when publishing the proposed rule for public comment and peer review. The PHMSA also ultimately failed to make a reasoned determination that the benefits of regulating gathering pipelines would exceed the costs and that doing so would be practicable, as required by law. View "GPA Midstream Association v. DOT" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation sought authorization to build and operate a system of natural gas facilities. After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted that authorization, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club (collectively, “CBD”) petitioned the DC Circuit for review.The DC Circuit dismissed the petition in part and denied it in part. The court explained that in approving the Alaska Liquid Natural Gas Project, the Commission complied with the NGA, NEPA, and the APA. CBD failed to provide any reason for the court to disturb the Commission’s reasonable determinations. Further, the court explained that the Commission properly assessed the cumulative impacts on beluga whales. CBD may disagree with the Commission’s policy choice to approve the Project, but the Commission comported with its regulatory obligations. To the extent the issues raised in the petition for review were not exhausted, the court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction View "Center for Biological Diversity v. FERC" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued its “final determination to regulate perchlorate in drinking water” under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Drinking Water: Regulatory Determination on Perchlorate. That determination started a clock under the Safe Drinking Water Act requiring EPA to propose regulations within twenty-four months and promulgate regulations within eighteen months of the proposal. But EPA never promulgated perchlorate regulations. Instead, nine years later, the agency purported to withdraw its regulatory determination. Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”) petitioned for review of this action, arguing that EPA lacks the authority to withdraw a regulatory determination under the Act and that, even if EPA possesses such authority, it acted arbitrarily and capriciously by doing so. EPA, joined by Intervenor American Water Works Association, defends its action.   The DC Circuit granted NRDC’s petition, vacated EPA’s withdrawal of its regulatory determination, and remand to the agency for further proceedings. The court held the Safe Drinking Water Act does not permit EPA to withdraw a regulatory determination. The court explained that first, and most fundamentally, EPA’s interpretation of what Congress intended in the statute cannot overcome the statute’s directive that the agency “shall” regulate. And second, the history EPA cites is not inconsistent with the court’s interpretation. The 1996 amendments undoubtedly gave the agency more discretion in determining which contaminants to consider for regulation and whether to regulate them in the first instance. But they also balanced that discretion with a mandatory scheme requiring EPA to regulate after it determines to do so. View "NRDC v. Michael Regan" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Midwest Ozone Group (MOG), an association of companies, trade organizations, and individual entities maintaining a collective interest in air quality petitioned for review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final action, entitled the Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Update Rule (Revised Rule) for the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which EPA promulgated in response to this Court’s remand in Wisconsin v. EPA, 938 F.3d 303 (D.C. Cir. 2019) In the Revised Rule, EPA addresses its failure to balance emissions obligations in accordance with 2008 ozone NAAQS and its prescribed date of attainment. On appeal, MOG contends that the Revised Rule is arbitrary and capricious and that EPA failed to conduct a legally and technically appropriate assessment as required by the Good Neighbor Provision of the Clean Air Act (CAA).   The DC Circuit denied the petition and held that the Revised Rule is an appropriate exercise of EPA’s statutory authority under the “Good Neighbor Provision.” The court explained that EPA appears to have chosen analytical techniques rationally connected to the Revised Rule and appropriately explained its use of the linear interpolation and subsequent methods for establishing the Revised Rule. In addition, EPA’s methodology did also incorporate photochemical modeling, MOG’s preferred technique, as the “foundation for its projections” and “merely layered an additional mathematical function, linear interpolation” over the original projected data to generate 2021 ozone concentrations. Further, MOG has not established that EPA’s linear interpolation method is oversimplified or that the agency has produced unreasonable results. View "Midwest Ozone Group v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Before registering a pesticide, EPA must consult with the statutorily specified agencies that have expertise on risks to species’ survival. But for decades, the EPA skipped that step when it registered pesticides, including those at issue in this case. After the EPA went ahead and approved the five registrations, the Conservation Groups petitioned the D.C. Circuit court to invalidate them. The parties then jointly requested that the court hold the petitions in abeyance to allow for settlement negotiations.The parties arrived at the terms of a settlement allowing the registrations to stand if EPA fulfills core ESA obligations by agreed deadlines. As a condition of their settlement agreement’s binding effect, the parties then jointly moved for an Order returning the cases to abeyance until the specified deadlines to afford EPA time to comply with the parties’ settlement terms.The D.C. Circuit agreed with the Order of Consent and held in the case in abeyance. However, the court dismisses as moot the challenge to the registration of cuprous iodide based on the parties’ report that EPA has complied to their satisfaction with the proposed settlement regarding that pesticide ingredient. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency registered a new pesticide without first determining, as required by the Endangered Species Act, whether it would have an adverse effect on endangered species. Then, five years ago, the DC Circuit Court ordered EPA to fulfill that statutory obligation. Notwithstanding Congress’s mandate and the court’s order, EPA has failed to make the required determination. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety sought the only legal relief left that would force the EPA to comply with the statute: a writ of mandamus.   The DC Circuit granted the writ. The court explained that the mandamus petition, in this case, arises from relatively unique circumstances that implicate two distinct sources of mandamus jurisdiction under the All Writs Act: the court’s power to compel unreasonably delayed agency activity and its power to require compliance with our previously issued orders. Further, weighing in favor mandamus is the potential threat cyantraniliprole poses to endangered species. Moreover, the court explained that whether EPA’s internal deadline demonstrates that it is acting in good faith is beside the point. The court need not find bad faith to find unreasonable delay. Thus, the court ordered the EPA to its previous order with an order consistent with the ESA by September 2023. EPA is directed to submit status updates every 60 days between now and September 2023. The court explained that should EPA fail to meet its September deadline, Petitioners are free to renew their motion for vacatur of cyantraniliprole’s registration order. View "In re: Center for Biological Diversity, et al." on Justia Law

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In 1997, EPA adopted stricter NAAQS for ozone. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone. The agency later adopted an implementation rule that, among other things, construed the Act’s anti-backsliding provision to apply not only when EPA relaxes a NAAQS but also when it strengthens one. The EPA reasoned that if Congress desired to maintain existing controls when a NAAQS is relaxed, Congress also must have intended to maintain such controls when a NAAQS is strengthened. The D.C. Circuit previously sustained the EPA’s interpretation.The Sierra Club challenged the EPA’s decisions to lift antibacksliding requirements in Houston and Dallas. The EPA responded that the proper and exclusive venue for the Sierra Club’s challenge is the Fifth Circuit. Thus, the D.C. Circuit transferred the case to the Fifth Circuit. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission approved a request by Space Exploration Holdings, LLC to fly its satellites at a lower altitude.The D.C. Circuit rejected the merits of a competitor's claim that the FCC did not adequately consider the risk of signal interference. The D.C. Circuit also declined to review a claim brought by another competitor and an environmental group because the competitor's asserted injury did not fall within the zone of interests protected by the NEPA and the environmental group lacked standing. View "Viasat, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Chevron U.S.A. Inc. intends to decommission two oil platforms located off the coast of California. The activity of those platforms is generally subject to the Clean Air Act. Chevron asked the Environmental Protection Agency for guidance on whether, as the process of decommissioning the two oil platforms moves forward, the platforms will cease to qualify as regulated sources under the Clean Air Act. EPA responded in a letter to Chevron. Unsatisfied with the views set out in EPA’s letter, Chevron now seeks judicial review of EPA’s response.The DC Circuit dismissed Chevron’s petition for review. The court wrote that it does not reach the merits of Chevron’s petition for review. In the circumstances of this case, the Clean Air Act’s venue provision allows for judicial review in this court only if EPA’s challenged action is “nationally applicable,” as opposed to “locally or regionally applicable.” 42 U.S.C. Section 7607(b)(1). The court concluded that EPA’s response letter is locally or regionally applicable, and that venue over Chevron’s challenge lies exclusively in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. View "Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. EPA" on Justia Law