Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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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

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The Corps and Bayou Bridge appealed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction preventing Bayou Bridge from constructing a pipeline in part through the Atchafalaya Basin of southern Louisiana. The Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction, holding that the district court misperceived the applicable regulations, and the Corps' analysis, properly understood, vindicated its decision that an environmental assessment sufficed under these circumstances. In this case, the environmental assessments concerning the permit did not exhibit the Supreme Court's criteria for an arbitrary and capricious decision. Furthermore, the district court abused its discretion by misapplying applicable legal principles and by inadvertently but critically overlooking the Louisiana Wetland Rapid Assessment Method. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Atchafalaya Basinkeeper v. U.S. Army Corps" on Justia Law

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Front Street filed a citizen suit under the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7604, to enjoin Mississippi Silicon from constructing a silicon plant. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claim against Mississippi Silicon where section 7604(a)(3) did not authorize suits against facilities that have either obtained a permit or were in the process of doing so, and thus it did not apply here. The court held, however, that the district court should not have dismissed the claims against MDEQ based on the time-of-filing rule. In this case, Front Street has cited no decision in which the Supreme Court or a Circuit Court has held that the time-of-filing rule applies to facts like those in the present case. The court rejected Mississippi Silicon's argument that Front Street lacked standing to appeal their claim against MDEQ. Finally, the court denied Mississippi Silicon's motion for attorneys' fees. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "16 Front Street, LLC v. Mississippi Silicon, LLC" on Justia Law

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Front Street filed a citizen suit under the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7604, to enjoin Mississippi Silicon from constructing a silicon plant. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claim against Mississippi Silicon where section 7604(a)(3) did not authorize suits against facilities that have either obtained a permit or were in the process of doing so, and thus it did not apply here. The court held, however, that the district court should not have dismissed the claims against MDEQ based on the time-of-filing rule. In this case, Front Street has cited no decision in which the Supreme Court or a Circuit Court has held that the time-of-filing rule applies to facts like those in the present case. The court rejected Mississippi Silicon's argument that Front Street lacked standing to appeal their claim against MDEQ. Finally, the court denied Mississippi Silicon's motion for attorneys' fees. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "16 Front Street, LLC v. Mississippi Silicon, LLC" on Justia Law