Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the drainage system managed by defendants discharged pollutants into surrounding waters, in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly interpreted "discharges . . .from irrigated agriculture," as used in 33 U.S.C. 1342(l)(1), to mean discharges from activities related to crop production. However, the panel held that the district court erred by placing the burden of demonstrating eligibility for the permit exception on plaintiffs, rather than on defendants, and by misinterpreting "entirely," as used in section 1342(l)(1). In this case, the district court's interpretation of the word "entirely" to mean "majority"— which both parties now concede was erroneous—was thus the but-for cause of the dismissal of plaintiffs' Vega Claim. The panel also held that the district court erred by placing the burden on plaintiffs to demonstrate that the discharges were not covered under section 1342(l)(1), rather than placing the burden on defendants to demonstrate that the discharges were covered under section 1342(l)(1). Furthermore the district court erred by striking plaintiffs' seepage and sediment theories of liability from plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment because the first amended complaint encompassed those claims. Accordingly, the panel reversed and remanded. View "Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations v. Glaser" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Forest Service in an action challenging the agency's designation of at-risk forest lands and its approval of the Sunny South Project. The panel held that the landscape-scale area designation under section 6591a(b)(2) did not trigger a requirement for National Environmental Policy Act analysis. In this case, the Forest Service's designation of the areas did not require an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement under the Act. The panel also held that the Forest Service's finding that the project did not involve "extraordinary circumstances" was not arbitrary or capricious. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Ilano" on Justia Law

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The Center filed suit seeking an injunction under the citizen suit provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to require the Kaibab National Forest's administrator, the Forest Service, to address hunters' use of lead ammunition in the Kaibab. Scavenger birds ingest the lead ammunition left in animal carcasses and then suffer lead poisoning. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the case concerned a genuine adversary issue between the parties and that a ruling in plaintiffs' favor would require the Forest Service to mitigate in some manner the harm caused by spent lead ammunition. The panel rejected the Forest Service's contention that the district court had discretion to decline jurisdiction over the case and held that the district court did not purport to exercise discretion with regard to whether to hear this case, nor could it properly have done so. Rather, the district court's order dismissing the case was based on its determination that it lacked jurisdiction. Furthermore, because the district court improperly determined that there was no jurisdiction over this case, it failed to decide whether the operative complaint stated a claim under 42 U.S.C. 7002 and applicable pleading standards. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Forest Service in an action brought by environmental groups challenging travel management plans permitting limited motorized big game retrieval in three Ranger Districts in the Kaibab National Forest. The panel held that the plans did not violate the Travel Management Rule where the new restrictions constitute a "limited" use of motorized vehicles; the Forest Service complied with the rule by limiting motor vehicle use to a defined set of roads in each District; and the Forest Service did not violate the plain terms of the Travel Management Rule. Determining that plaintiffs have standing, the panel held that the Forest Service did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), because the Forest Service's determination that no environmental impact statements (EIS) were needed as to the Districts' travel management plans was reasonable. Finally, the Forest Service did not violate the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), because the Forest Service conducted the required prefield work, consulted with the appropriate entities, and reached a determination consistent with the evidence before it. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Provencio" on Justia Law

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After ONDA challenged the BLM's Recreation Plan, which involved the route network for motorized vehicles in the Steens Mountain Area, the Interior Board of Land Appeals approved the related Travel Plan under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), and the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act of 2000 (Steens Act). Harney County then intervened to defend the Board's approval of the Travel Plan and cross-claimed against the BLM, challenging the Recreation Plan. The district court upheld both the Recreation Plan and the Travel Plan. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the BLM satisfied its obligation to consult the Steens Mountain Advisory Council before issuing the Recreation Plan, so its action was not arbitrary and capricious in that respect; the BLM acted arbitrarily and capriciously by changing its definition of "roads and trails" without providing a reasoned explanation for the change; the Board acted arbitrarily and capriciously by affirming the BLM's issuance of the Travel Plan; and the BLM acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the Recreation Plan. Finally, the court vacated the cost award to the BLM and remanded. View "Oregon Natural Desert Assoc.v. Rose" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by conservationist groups to enjoin the federal government's participation in the killing of gray wolves in Idaho pending additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The panel held that the conservationist groups had Article III standing because declarations from members described how USDA Wildlife Services's wolf-killing activities threatened their aesthetic and recreational interests. Therefore, the members established that the interests fell within the scope of NEPA's protections and they established an injury-in-fact. The panel noted that causation was established under the relaxed standard for procedural injuries. Finally, the panel held that the district court erred in finding that plaintiffs' injuries were not redressable and in relying on an unpublished opinion that lacked precedential value. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Grimm" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Forest Service in an action challenging travel management plans implemented by the Forest Service to permit limited motorized big game retrieval in three Ranger Districts of the Kaibab National Forest. The panel held that the Forest Service did not violate the plain terms of the Travel Management Rule absent authority requiring a strictly geographic interpretation of the words "limited" and "sparingly." Determining that plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the panel held that the Forest Service took the requisite hard look and its determinations were neither arbitrary nor capricious. In this case, the Forest Service did not violate NEPA by declining to prepare environmental impact statements based on the plans' environmental impacts. Finally, the panel held that the Forest Service satisfied its procedural obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by conducting the required prefield work, consulting the appropriate entities, and reaching a determination consistent with the evidence before it. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Provencio" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion filed December 12, 2017, and substituted the following opinion. In National Mining Association v. Zinke, 877 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2017), the panel upheld the decision of the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw, for twenty years, more than one million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims. The panel held that that withdrawal did not extinguish "valid existing rights." The panel affirmed, with one exception, the district court's judgment in an action filed by the Tribe and three environmental groups challenging the Forest Service's determination that Energy Fuels had a valid existing right to operate a uranium mine on land within the withdrawal area. The panel held that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and not the Mining Act, formed the legal basis of plaintiffs' claim that Canyon Mine should not be exempt from the withdrawal because the valid existing right determination was in error. The panel vacated as to this claim and remanded for reconsideration on the merits. View "Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio" on Justia Law

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Language in a 1993 appropriations act does not require the Corps to continue to use a 1987 guidance manual for delineating wetlands under the Clean Water Act. In an action seeking to set aside the Corps' decision for an excavation permit in Alaska, the Ninth Circuit held that the 1993 Budget Act prohibited the Corps from using the 1987 Manual during fiscal year 1993, and Congress included a second paragraph to explain what it expected the Corps to do instead. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps. View "Tin Cup, LLC v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for plaintiffs in an action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This case involved Teck Metals' liability for dumping several million tons of industrial waste into the Columbia River. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the panel held that the district court properly awarded the Colville Tribes all investigation expenses as costs of removal, even though many of these activities played double duty supporting both cleanup and litigation efforts; the district court properly awarded the Colville Tribes their attorney's fees, and the panel did not disturb the finding that approximately $4.86 million was a reasonable award in this case; and Teck did not make a sufficient showing to establish that liability for environmental harm to the Site was theoretically capable of apportionment. View "Pakootas v. Teck Cominco Metals, Ltd." on Justia Law