Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review challenging the EPA's findings and its conclusion that Arizona had achieved the statutory required reduction in ozone concentration by July 2018, in compliance with the Clean Air Act. After a major wildfire broke out in the San Bernardino National Forest in southeast California (the Lake Fire), three hundred miles east of the fire, six air quality monitors in the Phoenix region registered abnormally high concentrations of ozone, in excess of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS).The panel concluded that EPA did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding a clear causal connection between the Lake Fire and the June 20, 2015 exceedances. The panel explained that the evidence demonstrates that smoke (including ozone precursor chemicals) from the Lake Fire reached the exceedance monitors and caused abnormal ozone readings relative to similar historical conditions. Furthermore, petitioners failed to produce evidence sufficient to overcome the required deference to EPA's technical factual findings where EPA considered each of petitioners' comments during the proposed rule phase and addressed them with specificity; articulated a rational connection between the evidence and its own conclusions; and the resulting conclusion, based on the weight of the evidence, is rational.The panel also concluded that EPA did not act contrary to the Clean Air Act when it suspended the Phoenix nonattainment area's attainment contingency measures requirement after EPA issued a section 7511(b)(2) Attainment Determination. The panel concluded that the Clean Air Act is silent as to whether State Implementation Plans (SIPs) must contain attainment contingency measures after the attainment date and granted EPA's reasonable construction of 42 U.S.C. 7502(c)(9) under Chevron deference. View "Bahr v. Regan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an action brought by plaintiffs, alleging that the Secretary violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to consider the environmental impacts of various immigration programs and immigration-related policies. Plaintiffs, organizations and individuals, seek to reduce immigration into the United States because it causes population growth, which in turn, they claim, has a detrimental effect on the environment.In regard to Count I, which challenged DHS's 2015 Instruction Manual, the panel concluded that the Manual does not constitute final agency action subject to the court's review under section 704 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Therefore, the district court properly dismissed this count.In regard to Count II, which asserted that DHS implemented eight programs that failed to comply with NEPA, the panel concluded that Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871 (1990), squarely foreclosed plaintiffs' request for judicial review of seven non-Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. Therefore, the panel agreed with the district court that none of these programs are reviewable because they are not discrete agency actions.In regard to Counts II, where plaintiffs challenged DACA, as well as Counts III-V, which facially challenged categorical exclusions (CATEXs), the panel concluded that plaintiffs lack Article III standing. In this case, the panel rejected plaintiffs' enticement theory and "more settled population" theory; plaintiffs made no attempt to tie CATEX A3 to any particular action by DHS; plaintiffs offered no evidence showing that population growth was a predictable effect of the DSO and STEM Rules, as well as the AC21 Rule; plaintiffs failed to show injury-in-fact or causation concerning their challenge to the International Entrepreneur Rule; any cumulative effect analysis required by NEPA did not bear on whether plaintiffs had standing to challenge the rules; plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to challenge the sufficiency of the environmental assessments and findings of no significant impact issued in relation to President Obama's Response to the Influx of Unaccompanied Alien Children Across the Southwest border. View "Whitewater Draw Natural Resource Conservation District v. Mayorkas" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the EPA's 2019 withdrawal of its 2014 proposed determination to exercise its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to restrict the ability of miners to operate in part of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska. The district court held that the EPA's decision was unreviewable pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 701(a)(2) and Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985). The district court determined that neither the Clean Water Act nor the EPA's regulations include a meaningful legal standard governing the EPA's decision.Reviewing de novo, the panel held that (a) the Clean Water Act contains no meaningful legal standard in its broad grant of discretion to the EPA but that (b) the EPA's regulations do contain a meaningful legal standard. In particular, 40 C.F.R. 231.5(a) allows the EPA to withdraw a proposed determination only when an "unacceptable adverse effect" on specified resources is not "likely." Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal. The panel remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the EPA's withdrawal was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or contrary to law. View "Trout Unlimited v. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Service in an action challenging the Service's decision reversing its previous decision that the Pacific walrus qualified for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The panel found that the Service did not sufficiently explain why it changed its prior position. The panel concluded that the essential flaw in the 2017 Decision is its failure to offer more than a cursory explanation of why the findings underlying its 2011 Decision no longer apply. The panel explained that if, as is the case here, the agency's "new policy rests upon factual findings that contradict those which underlay its prior policy," a sufficiently detailed justification is required. In this case, the panel found insufficient the Service's briefs regarding localized prey depletion, a study showing that female walruses can travel longer distances than expected to forage, stampede-related mortalities, habitat loss generally, and subsistence harvest. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the FWS in an action brought by Friends of Animals, challenging FWS's rule, 50 C.F.R. 424.14(b), which required that affected states receive 30-day notice of an intent to file a petition to list an endangered species. Friends alleges that the FWS used the "pre-file notice rule" to improperly reject Friends' petition to list the Pryor Mountain wild horse as a threatened or endangered distinct population segment, and argues that the rule revision violates the Endangered Species Act's (ESA) requirements for review of petitions and is inconsistent with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).The panel concluded that the pre-file notice rule is inconsistent with the statutory scheme of the ESA and thus does not survive the second step of the Chevron test. The panel explained that the FWS used the pre-file notice rule to create a procedural hurdle to petitioners that does not comport with the ESA. In this case, the FWS used the pre-file notice rule to consider a petition that was properly submitted, complied with the substantive requirements in all other respects, and was otherwise entitled to a 90-day finding, while relying on an unreasonable justification that does not accord with the aims of the ESA. Therefore, FWS's denial of the petition was arbitrary and in excess of its statutory jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court to enter summary judgment in favor of Friends. View "Friends of Animals v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review challenging the EPA's Final 2019 Rule, which was a response to this court's 2017 Writ of Mandamus directing the EPA to respond to the need for updated lead-based paint hazard standards. Petitioners contend that the 2019 Rule violated statutory provisions of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazardous Reduction Act (PHA) that are codified in Title IV of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as well as rulings of this court in the Writ.The panel concluded that the current dust-lead hazard standards, lead-based paint definition, and soil-lead hazard standards do not identify all levels of lead that lead to adverse human health effects and therefore violate the TSCA. Furthermore, the EPA has continually refused to update the lead-based paint definition on the ground that it lacks sufficient information. The panel concluded that its failure to explain why such lack of data has persisted for more than a decade, in the face of mounting evidence of lead-based paint dangers, is arbitrary and capricious. The panel explained that the failure to update the soil-lead hazard standards is unjustified in the face of the now undisputed evidence that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Because the dust-lead clearance levels concern the lead content of dust after abatement of dust-lead hazards, the dust-lead hazard standards (DLHS) and the clearance levels are interrelated. Consistent with its holding that the EPA must reconsider the DLHS, the panel directed the EPA to reconsider the dust-lead clearance levels as well in the same proceeding. View "A Community Voice v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, cattle ranchers, filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the Service's decision to apply the 1995 Riparian Mitigation Measures to the Dry Cottonwood Allotment, instead of the allowable use levels in the 2009 Forest Plan, violated the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs and remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment to the Service. The panel concluded that the Service lawfully applied a particular set of standards for protecting stream habitats from the effects of cattle grazing, the 1995 Riparian Mitigation Measures, to plaintiffs' grazing permits. The panel also concluded that plaintiffs were not entitled to attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act for their administrative appeal. View "2-Bar Ranch Limited Partnership v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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In 2007, PANNA and the NRDC filed a petition asking the EPA to prohibit foods that contain any residue of the insecticide chlorpyrifos. In 2017, the EPA, pursuant to a court-set deadline, finally ruled on the 2007 Petition and denied it. In 2019, the EPA denied all objections to its decision.The Ninth Circuit granted petitions for review of the 2017 and 2019 EPA Orders and remanded with instructions for the EPA within 60 days after the issuance of the mandate either to modify chlorpyrifos tolerances and concomitantly publish a finding that the modified tolerances are safe, including for infants and children – or to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances. In this case, the EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos's ill effects and has repeatedly determined, based on that record, that it cannot conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances are causing no harm. Yet, rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA can find are reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties. Therefore, the panel concluded that the EPA's delay tactic was a total abdication of its statutory duty under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The panel also ordered the EPA to correspondingly modify or cancel related Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) registrations for food use in a timely fashion consistent with the requirements of 21 U.S.C. 346a(a)(1). View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. Regan" on Justia Law

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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