Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Original petitioner filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), challenging FWS's negative 90-day finding regarding the delisting of the Bone Cave harvestman arachnid as arbitrary and capricious. While the case was pending, the district court allowed intervening plaintiffs to separately argue that federal regulation of the purely intrastate species is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress's power under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses. The district court subsequently rejected the intervening plaintiffs' arguments, but granted summary judgment to the original plaintiffs. FWS's negative 90-day finding was vacated and the FWS then issued a positive 90-day finding, beginning a 12-month review of whether the Bone Cave harvestman should be delisted. The Fifth Circuit dismissed the intervenor plaintiffs' appeal of the denial of their motion for summary judgment, holding that the appeal is alternatively moot or barred by sovereign immunity. Therefore, the court lacked jurisdiction to resolve the appeal. View "American Stewards of Liberty v. Department of Interior" on Justia Law

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After ExxonMobil sought a revised Title V permit under the Clean Air Act concerning an expansion of a plant in Baytown, Texas, petitioners asked EPA to object on the grounds that the underlying Title I preconstruction permit allowing the expansion was invalid. EPA rejected petitioners' arguments and declined to object. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that EPA's interpretation that Title V permitting is not the appropriate vehicle for reexamining the substantive validity of underlying Title I preconstruction permits, is independently persuasive. Therefore, EPA's interpretation is entitled to the mild form of deference recognized by Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). View "Environmental Integrity Project v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The General Land Office challenged both the Service's listing of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler as an endangered species in 1990 and, about 26 years later, the Service's denial of a petition seeking to delist the Warbler. The Fifth Circuit held that the General Land Office's challenge to the Service's decision to list was untimely. The court held that the Service did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act or its implementing regulations when it declined to delist the Warbler, and thus the district court correctly granted the Service's motion to dismiss. However, the court agreed with the General Land Office that the Service applied the incorrect heightened standard when reviewing the delisting petition. Therefore, the court held that the Service's decision denying the delisting petition was arbitrary and capricious, and vacated the decision, remanding for further proceedings. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "General Land Office of the State of Texas v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged EPA's 2017 Final Rule approving Louisiana's state implementation plan (SIP) for controlling regional haze. Environmental Petitioners contend that Louisiana's SIP does too little to curb regional haze at federally protected areas. Industry Petitioners contend that Louisiana's SIP overestimates the amount of pollution that their power plants produce. The Fifth Circuit denied Industry Petitioners' petition, holding that EPA did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in relying on the CALPUFF model to approve Louisiana's "subject to BART" determinations. The court applied deferential standards of review and held that, although Environmental Petitioners' challenge presented a closer question, the court denied the petition because EPA's approval of Louisiana's SIP was not arbitrary and capricious. Even though the court noted that Louisiana’s explanation of its BART determination for the Nelson power plant omitted two of the five mandatory factors and failed to compare—or even set out—the numbers for the costs and benefits of the control options Louisiana considered. Furthermore, Louisiana failed to explain how its decision accounted for the EPA-submitted analyses that pointed out substantial flaws in other analyses in the administrative record. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed a petition for review of the EPA's issuance of a general permit for various oil and gas operations to discharge pollutants in federal waters in parts of the Gulf of Mexico. The court held that petitioners lacked associational standing to bring their challenges, because the declarations from petitioners' members either inadequately satisfied the geographic-nexus requirement or failed to aver an injury in fact. Furthermore, even if petitioners could show injury, they could not demonstrate traceability. In this case, petitioners failed to show a causal connection between the EPA's allegedly unlawful conduct and their members' asserted injuries. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the EPA's review and decision to revise the earliest compliance dates for new, stringent best available technology economically achievable (BAT) effluent limitations and pretreatment standards for existing source (PSES) concerning two waste streams from steam electric power generating point sources that had previously been promulgated in a 2015 Rule. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review challenging the EPA's decision to postpone for two years only the earliest compliance dates mandated by the 2015 Rule for flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater and bottom ash transport water. The court held that the EPA had statutory authority to pass this tailored rule and explained its decision adequately. The court also held that the EPA's decision was reasonable, and was neither arbitrary nor capricious. View "Clean Water Action v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated portions of the EPA's final rule updating effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) for legacy wastewater and for combustion residual leachate and remanded for agency reconsideration. The court held that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously by setting a Best Available Technology Economically Available (BAT) limit for legacy wastewater equal to the outdated best practicable control technology currently available (BPT) standard of surface impoundments. The court held that the leachate rule conflates the BAT and BPT standards in a way not permitted by the statutory scheme, and the agency's proffered justifications for the leachate rule were not supported by the factors set forth under the Clean Water Act for determining BAT. Therefore, the BAT determination for leachate failed Chevron step one. In the alternative, the leachate regulation failed at Chevron step two because it rests on an impermissible interpretation of the Clean Water Act. View "Southwestern Electric Power Co. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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An action to recover civil penalties for violation of the preconstruction requirements for major emitting facilities under 42 U.S.C. 7475(a) must be brought within five years of the first day of the alleged construction period. The Government filed suit against Luminant, alleging that the company violated the Clean Air Act by failing to obtain a statutorily mandated preconstruction permit for the modification of their facilities. The district court dismissed the government's civil penalty and injunctive relief claims as time barred, and held that the injunctive relief claims were subject to dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit held that the government, in its sovereign capacity, was exempted from the concurrent remedies doctrine; the statute of limitations did not apply to the government's claims for injunctive relief that were not civil fines, penalties, or forfeitures; there was no support for the district court's assumption that it was without jurisdiction to entertain any injunctive relief based on past violations of section 7475(a); and thus the district court was not barred by the statute of limitations, nor by the absence of jurisdiction, from further considering whether equitable relief may in some form be available to the government. Accordingly, the court remanded the injunctive relief claims for further consideration. View "United States v. Luminant Generation Co." on Justia Law

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PRP Group, an association cooperating with the EPA to pay costs associated with cleanup of a superfund site in Pasadena, Texas, filed suit against 1200 parties they believed should be responsible for part of the environmental remediation costs. PRP Group filed claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), and its state law counterpart, the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (TSWDA). The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying the state agency and university defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the agencies and universities were entitled to state sovereign immunity. Therefore, the district court erred when it concluded that state sovereign immunity did not bar PRP Group's CERCLA claims. The court likewise reversed as to PRP's state law claims. View "US Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group v. Railroad Commission of Texas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision holding that Texas complied with the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) in planning for three highway projects in Austin. The court held that TxDot complied with NEPA by studying the three highway projects as separate projects, instead of as a single project, to determine their environmental impacts. The court also held that, given the overpass project's limited scope and location over busy urban intersections, it was not arbitrary and capricious for TxDot to limit its cumulative impact analysis where the record supported its finding that the project would have no significant direct or indirect impact. View "Fath v. Texas Department of Transportation" on Justia Law