Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the EPA failed to perform its nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Water Act to promulgate pollutant limits for biologically impaired waters in West Virginia. The court held that plaintiffs have standing to bring the claim, but reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs. In this case, because West Virginia has demonstrated that it is making — and will continue to make — good-faith efforts to comply with SB 562, and because West Virginia has a credible plan in concert with the EPA to produce ionic toxicity total maximum daily loads, if the constructive submission doctrine were to apply, it would not be satisfied. View "Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Inc. v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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In 2014, several hundred thousand gallons of gasoline spilled from a rupture in an underground pipeline near Belton, South Carolina. The gasoline seeped into nearby waterways. Following a cleanup, at least 160,000 gallons allegedly remained unrecovered. Plaintiffs allege that the gasoline has continued to travel a distance of 1000 feet or less from the pipeline to Browns Creek and Cupboard Creek, which are tributaries of the Savannah River, and their adjacent wetlands Conservation groups brought a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251–1387, alleging violations by polluting "navigable waters of the United States" without a permit and seeking relief to remediate the ongoing pollution. The district court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the pipeline has been repaired and the pollutants currently pass through groundwater to reach “navigable waters.” The Fourth Circuit vacated. Citizens may bring suit under 33 U.S.C. 1365(a) for discharges of pollutants that derive from a “point source,” defined as “any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, [or] container” and continue to be “added” to navigable waters. Plaintiffs have stated a valid claim for a discharge under the Act. View "Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, visited the Cherokee Bear Zoo. Plaintiffs observed bear pits containing four bears, identified by signs as grizzly bears. The pits were compact and made entirely of concrete. Each pit had a small pool of water, but neither had any vegetation nor any shade. Plaintiffs observed the bears in listless form, pacing and begging for food. Patrons fed the bears apples and dry bread sold by the Zoo. Plaintiffs brought a citizen suit, alleging that the Zoo’s practice of keeping the bears in the described living conditions constituted a “tak[ing]” of and possession of a taken threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1). Plaintiffs’ argued that the Zoo’s conduct is a form of “harass[ment]” of, and “harm” to, its bears. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings in favor of Plaintiffs on the issues of standing and the bears’ status as protected but vacated the court’s ruling against Plaintiffs on the issue of whether the Zoo is committing an unlawful taking. To establish harassment, Plaintiffs must prove that the Zoo’s husbandry practices fall within 50 C.F.R. 17.3’s definition of harass and that those practices do not fall within the enumerated exclusion. The district court did not reach the first issue and improperly declined to ask whether the Zoo’s animal husbandry practices are “generally accepted.” View "Hill v. Coggins" on Justia Law

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The federal court's authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to correct an alleged failure by the EPA to perform a non-discretionary, CAA-based act or duty, does not extend to review of the EPA's management of its continuous duty to evaluate the potential employment impact of CAA administration and enforcement. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgments insofar as they impact the EPA, and remanded with instructions to have Murray's suit dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The court dismissed as moot Mon Valley's appeal of the denial of its motion to intervene. View "Murray Energy Corp. v. EPA" on Justia Law