Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Various parties appealed the dismissal of their action challenging Reclamation’s current operating procedures, which were adopted in consultation with other relevant federal agencies to maintain specific lake levels and instream flows to comply with the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) and to safeguard the federal reserved water and fishing rights of the Hoopa Valley and Klamath Tribes (the “Tribes”). The Tribes intervened as of right but then moved to dismiss the action on the ground that they were required parties who could not be joined due to their tribal sovereign immunity   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, due to a lack of a required party under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19. The panel held that the district court properly recognized that a declaration that Reclamation’s operating procedures were unlawful would imperil the Tribes’ reserved water and fishing rights. The panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the Tribes were required parties who could not be joined due to sovereign immunity, and that in equity and good conscience, the action should be dismissed.   The panel disagreed with Plaintiffs’ argument that the Tribes were not required parties to this suit because the Tribes’ interests were adequately represented by Reclamation. Because Reclamation is not an adequate representative of the Tribes, the Tribes are required parties under Rule 19. The court explained that The McCarran Amendment waives the United States’ sovereign immunity in certain suits. 43 U.S.C. Section 666(a). The panel held that even if the McCarran Amendment’s waiver of sovereign immunity extends to tribes as parties, the Amendment does not waive sovereign immunity in every case that implicates water rights. View "KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT, ET AL V. U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Tulelake Irrigation District and associated agricultural groups (collectively “TID”) alleged that, in imposing restrictions on the agricultural uses of lease land in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex in southern Oregon and northern California, the Service violated environmental laws.   On appeal, TID argued that the Service violated the Kuchel Act of 1964 and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act as amended by the Refuge Improvement Act (“Refuge Act”). TID argued that in approving the combined Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Conservation Plan (“EIS/CCP”) for five of the six wildlife refuges in the Klamath Refuge Complex, the Service misconstrued the Kuchel Act to require the Service to regulate uses of leased agricultural land in the two refuges to ensure that the uses were “consistent” with “proper wildfowl management.” 16 U.S.C. Section 695n.   The Ninth Circuit rejected TID’s interpretation of Section 695n. The court held that with respect to the textual argument made by TID, the language of Section 695n, whether considered in isolation or in the context of the rest of the Kuchel Act, was unambiguous. The court held that it did not, therefore, need to proceed to step two of the Chevron analysis. The court concluded that the Kuchel Act required the Service to regulate the pattern of lease land agriculture in the refuges to ensure consistency with proper waterfowl management. The court further held that the regulation in the EIS/CCP of agricultural uses of lease land was a proper exercise of the Service’s authority under the Kuchel and Refuge Acts. View "TULELAKE IRRIGATION DISTRICT V. USFWS" on Justia Law

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The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) issued a Record of Decision (“ROD”) adopting a combined Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Conservation Plan (“EIS/CCP”) for five of the six refuges in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex (“Klamath Refuge Complex” or “Complex”) in southern Oregon and northern California. challenges to the Service’s action.   The Audubon Society of Portland (“ASP”) brought suit against the Service in the district court, arguing that the EIS/CCP violates the Kuchel Act of 1964 (“Kuchel Act”), the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act as amended by the Refuge Improvement Act (“Refuge Act”), the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), and the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) with respect to the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges in the Complex. The district court granted summary judgment to the Service.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary with respect to the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex violated various laws. The court explained that two key statutes: the Kuchel Act of 1964, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, as amended by the Refuge Improvement Act, govern the Service’s management.   The court concluded that to the degree the present pattern of agricultural leasing in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges was consistent with proper waterfowl management in those refuges, the Kuchel and Refuge Acts directed the Service to continue that present pattern of leasing. In reviewing the EIS/CCP, the panel recognized constraints on the Service and deferred to reasoned explanations provided by the Service in support of its decisions. View "AUDUBON SOCIETY OF PORTLAND V. DEB HAALAND" on Justia Law

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The Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) challenged the Conservation Plan’s pest management approach for the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges. Western Watersheds challenged the Plan’s limited allowance of livestock grazing on portions of Clear Lake Refuge. Appellants brought their challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, and the Kuchel Act.   The Ninth Circuit considered, and rejected, CBD’s three challenges to the Conservation Plan. First, CBD argued that FWS failed to consider reduced-pesticide alternatives for Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges. The panel concluded that CBD’s arguments were unavailing. FWS adequately explained that some amount of pesticide use was necessary on the Refuges to ensure sufficient crop production, on which Refuge waterfowl now depend. Also, FWS could conclude that reduced-pesticide alternatives would not have been reasonable given the uses and purposes of the Refuges. Thus, NEPA did not obligate FWS to consider reduced-pesticide alternatives.   The court concluded that FWS did not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or contrary to law by continuing to use the PUP process to evaluate potential pesticide applications on the Refuges, and by allowing for pesticide use as a last resort. View "AUDUBON SOCIETY OF PORTLAND V. DEB HAALAND" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that the oil and gas companies knew about climate change, understood the harms energy exploration and extraction inflicted on the environment, and concealed those harms from the public. Plaintiffs sued in Hawaii state court, asserting state-law public and private nuisance, failure to warn, and trespass claims. The complaints asserted that Defendants’ deception caused harm from climate change, like property damage from extreme weather and land encroachment because of rising sea levels.   The Ninth Circuit held that Defendants could not show federal jurisdiction. The court held that removal from state court was not proper under federal officer jurisdiction and that Plaintiffs’ injuries were for or relating to Defendants’ actions.   The court explained that Defendants did not act under federal officers when they produced oil and gas during the Korean War and in the 1970s under the Defense Production Act when they repaid offshore oil leases in kind and contracted with the government to operate the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, when they conducted offshore oil operations, or when they operated the Elk Hills oil reserve. The court further held that Defendants did not assert a colorable federal defense by citing the government-contractor defense, preemption, federal immunity, the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Clauses, the Due Process Clause, the First Amendment, and the foreign affairs doctrine. The court concluded that most of these defenses failed to stem from official duties, and the government-contractor and immunity defenses were not colorable. The court held that Defendants did not establish federal enclave jurisdiction because they could not show that activities on federal enclaves directly caused Plaintiffs’ injuries. View "CITY & COUNTY OF HONOLULU V. SUNOCO LP" on Justia Law

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A nonprofit organization called California River Watch claimed that the City of Vacaville, California was violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). River Watch claimed the City’s water wells were contaminated by a carcinogen called hexavalent chromium. That carcinogen, River Watch says, was in turn transported to the City’s residents through its water-distribution system. River Watch’s argument on appeal was that because the hexavalent chromium originated from the Wickes site, it was “discarded material” under RCRA, and thus the City was liable for its transportation through its water-distribution system. The parties cross-moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the City’s motion and denied River Watch’s motion because, as it explained, River Watch hadn’t demonstrated how the City’s water-processing activities could qualify as discarding “solid waste” under RCRA. Thus, the district court explained, RCRA’s “fundamental requirement that the contaminant be ‘discarded’” was not satisfied. River Watch appealed. The Ninth Circuit was satisfied that hexavalent chromium met RCRA's definition of "solid waste." However, the Court found RCRA’s context makes clear that mere conveyance of hazardous waste cannot constitute “transportation” under the endangerment provision. Under the facts presented, the Court found the City did not move hexavalent chromium in direct connection with its waste disposal process. Under River Watch’s theory of liability, hexavalent chromium seeped through groundwater into the City’s wells and the City incidentally carried the waste through its pipes when it pumps water to its residents. The Court concluded City did not have the necessary connection to the waste disposal process to be held liable for “transportation” under § 6972(a)(1)(B) of the Act. Because the City could not be held liable under RCRA, the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the City was affirmed. View "California River Watch v. City of Vacaville" on Justia Law

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The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) require the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to regulate pesticides, which are defined to include herbicides. EPA issued an Interim Registration Review Decision for glyphosate (“Interim Decision”), which: (1) announced that its earlier draft human-health and ecological risk assessments were final; (2) contained a brief cost-benefit analysis concluding that the benefits outweighed the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used according to label directions; and (3) laid out various mitigation measures, in the form of label changes for glyphosate products, to reduce the potential ecological risks. EPA still planned, among other things, to complete an assessment of glyphosate’s effect on endangered and threatened species, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).   Petitioners filed for review of the Interim Decision: one led by Rural Coalition and the other by Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”). The Ninth Circuit (1) granted in part and denied in part a petition for review challenging the EPA’s decision determining that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, does not pose “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment”; and (2) remanded to the agency for further consideration.   The court held that EPA’s conclusion was in tension with parts of the agency’s own analysis and with the Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment (“Cancer Guidelines”), which EPA purported to follow. Further, that EPA’s registration review decision under FIFRA was an “action” that triggered the ESA’s consultation requirement; EPA actively exercised its regulatory power, completing an assessment of glyphosate’s risks under FIFRA and delineating what constituted acceptable glyphosate use under the statute’s safety standard. View "NRDC V. USEPA" on Justia Law

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Environmental groups learned through FOIA requests that agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior had authorized permits for offshore well stimulation treatments without first conducting the normally-required environmental review. Pursuant to settlements between the environmental groups and the federal agencies – the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the agencies issued an Environmental Assessment (“EA”) evaluating the use of offshore well simulation treatments and did not prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”). The agencies concluded that the use of these treatments would not pose a significant environmental impact and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (“FONSI”). Petroleum industry Defendants intervened.                                                                    The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs’ National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) claims, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs on the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) and Coastal Zone Management Act (“CZMA”) claims.   After reviewing the agencies’ EA and FONSI, the court held that the agencies failed to take the hard look required by NEPA in issuing their EA and that they should have prepared an EIS for their proposed action. The court reversed the summary judgment to Defendants on the NEPA claims and granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs on those claims; affirmed the district court’s summary judgment to Plaintiffs on the ESA and CZMA claims; and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning injunctive relief. The court held that the agencies acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not preparing an EIS. The court vacated the inadequate EA. View "EDC V. BOEM" on Justia Law

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Rosemont Copper Company sought to dig a large open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains just south of Tucson, Arizona. The United States Forest Service (“the Service”) approved Rosemont’s mining plan of operations (“MPO”) on two separate grounds. The district court held that neither ground supported the Service’s approval of Rosemont’s MPO.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment that the Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in approving the entirety of Rosemont Copper Company’s MPO. The court agreed with the district court’s holding that Section 612 of the Multiple Use Act granted no rights beyond those granted by the Mining Law. The court also agreed with the district court’s holding that the Service had no basis for assuming that Rosemont’s mining claims were valid under the Mining Law. The court remanded to the Service for further proceedings as it deems important, informed by the Government’s concession that Section 612 grants no rights beyond those granted by the Mining Law, and by the court’s holding that Rosemont’s mining claims on the 2,447 acres were invalid under the Mining Law. The court further noted that it did not know whether the Service would have decided that Part 228A regulations were applicable to Rosemont’s proposal to occupy invalid claims with its waste rock, and, if applicable, whether the Service would have construed those regulations to allow such occupancy. View "CTR. FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY V. USFWS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a non-profit group composed of small business owners who fish in the Bay Area, sued various government agencies seeking to prevent the enforcement of a commercial fishing prohibition that applies generally in national parks. Plaintiff claims that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) does not confer with National Park Service with the ability to regulate offshore waters. The district court granted summary judgment to the government entities.The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that the text and structure of the GGNRA Act confirm that Congress has given the Park Service administrative jurisdiction over the waters in question. Nothing in the GGNRA Act supports the Plaintiff's position, that the Park Service must first establish a property interest in the waters from the State of California. View "SAN FRANCISCO HERRING ASSOC. V. USDOI" on Justia Law