Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Plaintiffs, two environmental organizations, filed a citizens' civil action against administrators and board members of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to enforce the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. 2601–2629. Plaintiffs sought remediation of several school buildings containing dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).On appeal, plaintiffs challenge the district court's sanctions order and its dismissal of one of the plaintiffs for lack of standing, and the district court's decision in December 2018 partially modifying the 2016 permanent injunction. Plaintiffs also ask to take judicial notice of a document dated September 11, 2019, which plaintiffs did not present to the district court.The Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court's sanctions order in light of the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Goodyear Tire & Robber Co. v. Haeger, 137 S. Ct. 1178 (2017), which clarified the procedural requirements and substantive limitations that apply when a district court imposes sanctions under its inherent authority, rather than pursuant to any statute or rule. The panel also reversed the district court's dismissal of one plaintiff for lack of standing. The panel affirmed in part the district court's 2018 amended judgment and permanent injunction (except for the sanctions order, which is vacated and remanded). Finally, the panel denied plaintiffs' request for judicial notice. View "America Unites for Kids v. Rousseau" on Justia Law

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CBD filed suit challenging the legality of BOEM's and FWS's actions, arguing that the agencies failed to comply adequately with the procedural requirements imposed by the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Marine Fisheries Services (MMPA). Relying on a biological opinion prepared by FWS and BOEM's own environmental impact statement (EIS), BOEM's Regional Supervisor of Leasing and Plans signed a record of decision approving the Liberty project, an offshore drilling and production facility. The site of the Liberty project is governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).After determining that it had jurisdiction over CBD's claims, the Ninth Circuit vacated BOEM's approval of the Liberty project, concluding that BOEM acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to quantify the emissions resulting from foreign oil consumption in its EIS as required by NEPA, or, at least, explaining thoroughly why it cannot do so and summarizing the research upon which it relied. The panel also held that FWS violated the ESA by (1) relying upon uncertain, nonbinding mitigation measures in reaching its no-adverse-effect conclusion in its biological opinion, and (2) failing to estimate the Liberty project's amount of nonlethal take of polar bears. Because FWS's biological opinion is flawed and unlawful, the panel concluded that BOEM's reliance on FWS's opinion is arbitrary and capricious. The panel granted in part and denied in part the petition for review, remanding for further proceedings. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a highway improvement project proposed by Caltrans, claiming that the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The district court determined that Caltrans arbitrarily and capriciously relied upon the 2010 Environmental Assessment (2010 EA), as supplemented and revised, and enjoined Caltrans from continuing the Project until it finalized an appropriate environmental impact statement (EIS). The district court then entered a final judgment against Caltrans.The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to plaintiffs because none of the purported inadequacies it identified rendered the revised EA arbitrary or capricious. The panel was satisfied that Caltrans took a hard look at the consequences of the Project, and adequately considered the relevant factors. In this case, the district court's rationale for requiring an EIS was predicated on its erroneous conclusions about the Project's effects on redwood tree health and possible increases in truck traffic and noise. Therefore, the district court erred in finding Caltrans' EA arbitrary and capricious and in setting aside the 2017 finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The panel reversed the district court's judgment requiring Caltrans to produce an EIS and enjoining it from continuing the Project until it has done so. View "Bair v. California Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The U.S. EPA promulgated new landfill emissions guidelines in 2016. Each state was required to submit a plan for implementing the new guidelines. The EPA was to approve or disapprove each state plan. For states that failed to submit a plan, the EPA had to promulgate a federal plan that would govern implementation in those states. The deadline for EPA issue the federal plan was set by regulation for November 2017. The EPA missed the deadline. Several states sued to force EPA to promulgate its federal plan. EPA responded to the suit and also began the rulemaking process to extend its regulatory deadline. While that rulemaking was underway, the district court entered an injunction requiring EPA to promulgate the federal plan within six months (November 2019). Months later, the EPA finalized the rulemaking process, extending its regulatory deadline by two years to August 2021. The district court declined to modify the injunction.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion in denying the EPA’s request for relief because the new regulations constituted a change in law, and removed the legal basis for the court’s deadline. A shift in the legal landscape that removed the basis for an order warranted modification of the injunction. The court rejected an argument that courts must look beyond the new regulations and conduct a broad, fact-specific inquiry into whether modification prevented inequity. View "California v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The emergency military construction authority provided by 10 U.S.C. 2808 does not authorize eleven border wall construction projects on the southern border of the United States.The Organizational Plaintiffs and the State Plaintiffs filed separate actions challenging the Federal Defendants' anticipated diversion of federal funds to fund border wall construction pursuant to various statutory authorities, including Section 2808. The Federal Defendants timely appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and declaratory relief to Sierra Club and the States and the grant of a permanent injunction to Sierra Club. The States timely cross-appealed the denial of their request for a permanent injunction.The Ninth Circuit held that the States and Sierra Club both have Article III standing and a cause of action to challenge the Federal Defendants' border wall construction projects; Section 2808 did not authorize the challenged construction where the projects are neither necessary to support the use of the armed forces nor are they military construction projects; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in either granting a permanent injunction to Sierra Club or in denying a separate permanent injunction to the States. Although the panel recognized that in times of national emergency the panel generally owes great deference to the decisions of the Executive, the particular circumstances of this case require it to take seriously the limitations of the text of Section 2808 and to hold the Executive to them. The panel stated that where, as here, Congress has clung to this power with both hands—by withholding funding for border wall construction at great effort and cost and by attempting to terminate the existence of a national emergency on the southern border on two separate occasions, with a majority vote by both houses—the panel can neither pry it from Congress's grasp. View "Sierra Club v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Sterling under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) to recover response costs incurred at a Superfund Site. Sterling filed a counterclaim, arguing that the United States was itself liable for response costs under CERCLA as a prior "operator" of the Lava Cap Mine during World War II.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment finding Sterling liable for response costs and that plaintiffs could recover all response costs. The court held that Sterling is subject to CERCLA liability as a prior operator of the Mine and that the United States is not subject to CERCLA liability as a prior operator. The court also held that the interim remedy selected by the EPA to supply non-contaminated drinking water at the Site was not arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law. Furthermore, Sterling failed to overcome the presumption of consistency with the National Contingency Plan. View "United States v. Sterling Centrecorp Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Service in an action brought by Pacific Choice challenging the agency's rule imposing a quota system for the Pacific non-whiting groundwater fishery. Pacific Choice alleged that the Service's 2.7 percent maximum share and its "control" rule exceeded its authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 and violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).After determining that Pacific Choice's suit was timely, the panel held that the Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in setting the 2.7 percent maximum share. The panel rejected Pacific Choice's contention that the Service failed to consider market power and failed to articulate the methods by which, and the purposes for which, it set the maximum share percent. The panel also rejected Pacific Choice's statutory and APA challenges to the Service's control rule. The panel applied Chevron deference to the Service's interpretation of "hold, acquire, or use" to include "control," as well as to the Service's definition of "control," and held that nothing in the statute unambiguously foreclosed the Service's approach. View "Pacific Choice Seafood Co. v. Ross" on Justia Law

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TWA challenged the Navy's decision to relocate troops to Guam and construct training facilities on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The U.S.-Japan Alliance Agreement was entered into by the United States and Japan to adapt their alliance to the changing regional and global security environment, resulting in the determination to move Marine troops from Okinawa to Guam.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Navy and rejected TWA's procedural challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), holding that the Marine relocation and the placing of training facilities on Tinian are not connected for the purposes of an environmental impact statement (EIS). Furthermore, the Navy did not violate NEPA's mandate by deferring consideration of the cumulative impacts to a future EIS. The panel also held that TWA's remaining claim—that the Navy failed to consider stationing alternatives beyond Guam and the CNMI for Marines relocating out of Okinawa—also fails based on lack of standing because TWA's claim is not redressable by the judicial branch. Therefore, the panel affirmed the dismissal of this claim. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying TWA's request for leave to amend. View "Tinian Women Ass'n v. United States Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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After Asarco entered into a settlement agreement and consent decree with the government, it filed a contribution action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) against Atlantic Richfield. The district court entered judgment in favor of Asarco, finding that Asarco had incurred $111.4 million in necessary response costs for the cleanup of a Superfund Site and that Atlantic Richfield was responsible for twenty-five percent of that sum.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred in its determination of the necessary response costs incurred by Asarco by including speculative future costs in its tabulation of necessary response costs eligible for contribution under CERCLA. However, the panel held that the district court did not err in allocating responsibility for twenty-five percent of the response costs to Atlantic Richfield. Accordingly, the panel vacated and remanded in part, and affirmed in part. View "ASARCO LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law