Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The district court entered a Consent Decree between the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas (the City), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the State of Arkansas. The Consent Decree imposed various sewer system improvement requirements on the City over an initial 12-year period. The Consent Decree’s requirements generally include (1) assessing the condition of the sewer system, (2) identifying control measures to address certain defects, and (3) developing a plan to ensure adequate capacity in the sewer system. The City filed a motion for judicial resolution. The district court granted the City’s motion and issued two orders on March 19, 2021, and April 30, 2021. The City appealed those two orders, challenging the court’s ruling that certain severe structural defects had to be repaired by a date certain.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that nothing in the Consent Decree or in Appendix D explicitly indicates that the decision tree only applies to defects with Grades 1 to 3 and not to Grades 4 and 5. But assuming arguendo that it applies to all defects identified in the City’s SSA irrespective of grade, Appendix D conflicts with Paragraph 18. Paragraph 18 provides that all Grade 4 and 5 defects must be included in the RMP. Accordingly, the court affirmed the conclusion of the district court that “the Consent Decree requires the City to resolve the defects in Grade 4 and 5 manholes and sewer lines, and this cannot be accomplished solely by monitoring and maintenance analysis.” View "United States v. City of Fort Smith, Arkansas" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the owners of a large ranch in rural North Dakota, filed this petition for review related to their challenge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) renewal of a Clean Air Act (CAA) Title V operating permit for Coyote Station, a coal-fired electric generating plant that is serviced by the nearby Coyote Creek Mine. Petitioners petitioned the EPA Administrator to object to the renewal of the permit, and the Administrator denied the petition on the basis that Petitioners failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that the permitting decision was contrary to the CAA.   The Eighth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that in response to Petitioners’  petition, the EPA has interpreted the term “demonstrates” in Section 7661d(b)(2) to include an obligation to discuss the specific points in the NDDOH permit or reasoning to which Petitioners objected. The Administrator determined that because Petitioners failed “to engage with the facts that [the NDDOH] deemed to be most relevant, the [Petitioners] . . . failed to demonstrate that [the NDDOH’s] justification was unreasonable, or that its ultimate decision was contrary to the CAA.” The court concluded that this interpretation is entitled to deference under either Chevron or Skidmore because it is both reasonable and persuasive, a conclusion other courts have similarly reached. The court thus concluded that the Administrator’s interpretation of “demonstrates” in Section 7661d(b)(2) is entitled to deference. Finally, Petitioners’ arguments about the lack of a notice and comment period did not change the court’s conclusion View "Casey Voigt v. U.S. E.P.A." on Justia Law

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For nearly forty years, there has been ongoing efforts to environmentally remediate the Reilly Tar & Chemical Corporation site in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. In 2019, the site’s original consent decree and remedial action plan were amended in a fashion that some neighboring parties oppose. At issue is whether the neighboring parties may intervene to oppose the amended consent decree.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that neighboring parties may not intervene because the neighboring parties lack Article III standing. The court explained that even assuming the Proposed Intervenors show a concrete injury by having to spend money to remediate their property, there are causality issues that preclude Article III standing. The Proposed Intervenors’ contention that the 2019 Consent Decree will increase the migration of CVOC contaminants from the Reilly Tar Site to their own property is based on two unfounded assumptions: (1) it presumes that the CVOC contaminants were subject to remediation by the 1986 Consent Decree, and (2) the 2019 Consent Decree significantly changes CVOC remediation at the Reilly Tar Site.Given this assurance and the conclusion that the 2019 Consent Decree does not alter Reilly Tar’s CVOC remediation obligations, the Proposed Intervenors have not shown a traceable or redressable injury, which are requirements for Article III standing. Because the Proposed Intervenors lack standing, the court has no authority to analyze their remaining claims. View "United States v. Daikin Applied Americas" on Justia Law

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The Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to build student housing on the Russellville property, next to Arkansas Tech University. The land is bordered by two waterways. Downstream from the tract, the Corps maintains the Russellville Dike and Prairie Creek Pumping Station to protect Russellville from flooding by pumping water into the backwaters of the Arkansas River, away from the city. Upstream from the station is a sump, 730 acres of low-lying land that holds water that then flows toward the pumping station, The Corps purchased flowage easements giving it the right to flood the land subject to those easements to a certain elevation. Part of the tract at issue lies within the sump and is subject to an easement, "that no structures for human habitation shall be constructed." The owner proposed four apartment buildings on land subject to the easement.The Eighth Circuit upheld the denial of a permit. It is unlawful for anyone "in any manner whatever [to] impair the usefulness of any . . . work built by the United States . . . to prevent floods" unless the Corps permits it, 33 U.S.C. 408(a). The proposed construction would impair the usefulness of the Corps's pumping station. The Corps found that the structures would result in water velocities and depths that would be "a significant hazard that can deny escape," and "may threaten the lives and security of the people and property in Russellville.” View "Russellville Legends LLC v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Ameren appeals an adverse judgment of the district court in a Clean Air Act (CAA) enforcement action brought by the United States, acting at the request of the EPA Administrator, arguing that the district court erroneously found it liable for not obtaining permits for projects at its Rush Island Energy Center and assessing liability under the applicable federal regulations. Ameren also contends that the district court ordered legally flawed injunctions at both Rush Island and at a different plant, Labadie Energy Center.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's liability determination, holding that the district court did not err in holding that the Rush Island projects required permits through application of the actual-to-projected-actual applicability test under 40 C.F.R. 52.21(a)(2)(iv)(c), incorporated by reference in section 6.060(8)(A) of the Missouri state implementation plan (SIP). The court also held that the district court did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof to Ameren in proving the applicability of the demand-growth exclusion; the district court did not err in holding that to prove the applicability of the demand-growth exclusion, Ameren had to establish that demand on the unit increases; and the district court did not err in holding that no special standard of care evidence is required for the factfinder to be able to determine whether a reasonable power plant operator or owner would have expected the projects to cause a significant emissions increase. Furthermore, even assuming that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the expert testimony, any error would be harmless. However, the court reversed in part the remedial portion of the district court's order concerning the Labadie plant. Finally, the district court had jurisdiction to consider whether Ameren violated the express terms of its Title V permit. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Ameren Missouri" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against CCMC, alleging that CCMC failed to obtain the proper construction permit under the Clean Air Act (CAA), and failed to implement the requisite dust control plan for the Coyote Creek Mine, which is adjacent to plaintiffs' ranch. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of CCMC, concluding the federal regulations imposing permitting and dust control requirements do not apply to CCMC's operations.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for CCMC and agreed with the district court that the regulations, standing alone, are ambiguous. The court also concluded that the most reasonable interpretation of the relevant regulations is that the coal pile is not "in" CCMC's coal processing plant. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to CCMC on the basis that the coal pile is not subject to Subpart Y regulations, which would have required a major source permit and a fugitive dust control plan. View "Voigt v. Coyote Creek Mining Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against CCMC, alleging that CCMC failed to obtain the proper construction permit under the Clean Air Act (CAA), and failed to implement the requisite dust control plan for the Coyote Creek Mine, which is adjacent to plaintiffs' ranch.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for CCMC, because the federal regulations imposing permitting and dust control requirements do not apply to CCMC's operations. The court agreed with the district court in determining that the regulations are ambiguous or in ultimately concluding that the regulations, combined with the guidance, do not resolve the relevant inquiry. The court agreed with the district court that the best interpretative aid to determine whether Subpart Y - Standards of Performance for Coal Preparation and Processing Plants, 40 C.F.R. pt. 60, applies to the coal pile is the NDDOH permitting decision, which concluded that the coal pile is not part of the coal processing plant and thus is not subject to Subpart Y. Furthermore, that decision is entitled to deference.The court also held that, on the record before it and given the overarching framework of the CAA, including the cooperative relationship between the EPA and the states, the district court appropriately gave deference to the NDDOH permitting decision to resolve the regulations' ambiguity in favor of CCMC. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to CCMC on the basis that the coal pile is not subject to Subpart Y regulations, which would have required a major source permit and a fugitive dust control plan. View "Voigt v. Coyote Creek Mining Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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POET petitioned for review of a letter from the Assistant Administrator of the EPA, contending that the letter embodies the EPA's final decision to deny POET's application to generate D3 Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) by producing cellulosic ethanol from corn-kernel fiber at its facility in Hudson, South Dakota.The Eighth Circuit held that the controversy regarding the EPA's alleged denial of the application is moot and dismissed the petition. In this case, POET has since filed a new, non-identical application to generate D3 RINs at its Hudson facility, which is currently pending for the EPA's review. View "POET Biorefining - Hudson, LLC v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against federal and state agencies in a dispute over the widening of Interstate Highway 630, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and NEPA's implementing regulations, 40 C.F.R. 1500-1508.Determining that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of injunctive relief, holding that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. In this case, plaintiffs failed to show that the FHWA's determination that the project qualifies for a categorical exclusion from NEPA requirements because the project takes place entirely within the existing operational right-of-way was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "Wise v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Metropolitan Council on LPA's claim that the Council violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal and state laws. In this case the Council is the sole defendant and LPA filed suit prior to a final agency action.The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear LPA's claim, because Eighth Circuit precedent expressly rejects the viability of a NEPA cause of action outside of the Administrative Procedure Act framework, especially when the only defendant is a state agency. Therefore, LPA has no cause of action through which it could state a plausible claim. The court remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. View "Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis v. The Metropolitan Council" on Justia Law