Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Pesticides sold in the United States generally must be registered by the EPA. Private parties can petition the EPA to cancel the registration of a pesticide, and the EPA is required to resolve those petitions “within a reasonable time.” The Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”) petitioned the EPA to cancel the registration of tetrachlorvinphos (“TCVP”), for use in household pet products. After delays, the EPA eventually denied NRDC’s petition.The court held that the EPA’s denial of NRDC’s petition was not supported by substantial evidence. The EPA failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its denial of NRDC’s petition and made several arbitrary calculations. The EPA’s errors primarily impacted two calculations central to its denial of NRDC’s petition: (1) the amount of TCVP dust released by the pet collars, and (2) the assumption that pet owners will trim the collars by at least 20%.The court found that it could only uphold agency action based on the reasons the agency gave for its decision. The panel held further that the EPA’s assumption that only 14.6% of the dust released from the collars was TCVP was troubling on the merits. The court held that it would not defer to the EPA’s highly inaccurate calculation that pet owners will trim pet collars by 20% when fitting the collar onto a pet’s neck. The court concluded that it was apparent that the EPA’s denial of NRDC’s petition was simply not supported by substantial evidence when considered on the record as a whole. View "NRDC V. USEPA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that the energy companies’ extraction of fossil fuels and other activities were a substantial factor in causing global warming and a rise in the sea level, bringing causes of action for public and private nuisance, strict liability, strict liability, negligence, negligent failure to warn, and trespass.The court held that the district court lacked federal question jurisdiction under Sec. 1331 because, at the time of removal, the complaints asserted only state-law tort claims against the energy companies. The court held that Plaintiffs’ global-warming claims did not fall within the Grable exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule. In addition, Plaintiffs’ state law claims did not fall under the “artful-pleading” doctrine, another exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule, because they were not completely preempted by the Clean Air Act.Further, the court found Plaintiffs’ claims were not removable under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The court also held that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction under the federal-officer removal statute, Sec. 1442(a)(1), because the energy companies were not “acting under” a federal officer’s directions. The court then rejected the energy companies’ argument that the district court had removal jurisdiction over the complaints under Sec. 1452(a) because they were related to bankruptcy cases involving Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal, and Texaco, Inc. Finally, the court held that the district court did not have admiralty jurisdiction because maritime claims brought in state court are not removable to federal court absent an independent jurisdictional basis. View "COUNTY OF SAN MATEO V. CHEVRON CORP." on Justia Law

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”) published the Kenai Rule, codifying its ban on baiting Kenai Refuge brown bears and its closing of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (“Skilak WRA”) to certain animals.The court held that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (“ANILCA”) preserved the federal government’s plenary power over public lands in Alaska. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that the Service exceeded its statutory authority in enacting the Kenai Rule. The court held that while the Alaska Statehood Act transferred the administration of wildlife from Congress to the State, the transfer did not include lands withdrawn or set apart as refuges or reservations for the protection of wildlife, like the Kenai Refuge. Next, the court held that Plaintiff’s assertion that the Service could preempt the State’s hunting regulations on federal lands in Alaska was unsupported by the law.Further, the court rejected Safari Club’s contention that the Skilak WRA aspect of the Kenai Rule violated the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (“Improvement Act”). The court held that The Improvement Act did not require the Service to allow all State-sanctioned hunting throughout the Kenai Refuge. Moreover, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that the Service violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) by acting arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the Kenai Rule. Finally, the court rejected Plaintiffs’ two-part National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) argument. The panel concluded that there was no basis for reversal. View "SAFARI CLUB INTERNATIONAL V. DEBRA HAALAND" on Justia Law

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The California State Water Resources Control Board signed a Management Agency Agreement (“MAA”) with the U.S. Forest Service to formally recognize it as the management agency on Forest Service lands to implement water management plans. The U.S. Forest Service issued grazing permits in three allotments-- the Bell Meadow, Eagle Meadow, and Herring Creek Allotments (the “BEH Allotments”). Plaintiffs alleged that the Forest Service’s allowance of livestock grazing in the BEH Allotments led to fecal matter runoff. The only claim at issue here alleged that the government violated Section 313 of the Clean Water Act by failing to comply with requirements of California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.The panel held that the plaintiffs had Article III standing under the associational standing doctrine because at least one member of each plaintiff organization averred that they regularly hike in all three Allotments. rest Service would instead implement the agreed-upon Best Management Practices (“BMP”s) and the provisions of the MAA. Second, plaintiffs asserted that the MAA was superseded by the State Board’s adoption of the 2004 “Policy for Implementation and Enforcement of the Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program” (“2004 NPS Policy”). The panel held that this argument was refuted by the text of that document. The panel concluded that plaintiffs failed to show that government violated the reporting and permitting requirements of the relevant Cal. Water Code. The panel affirmed the district court’s summary judgment to defendants with respect to plaintiffs’ claims based on asserted violations of the basis plan’s water quality objectives. View "CENT. SIERRA ENVTL. RES. CTR. V. STANISLAUS NAT'L FOREST" on Justia Law

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Appellee, Signal Peak Energy, sought to expand its mining operations, resulting in the expected emission of 190 million tons of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). The Department of the Interior (“Interior”) published an environmental assessment (“EA”) which explained that the amount of GHGs emitted would amount to .44 percent of the total GHGs emitted each year globally. A group of environmental groups challenged the Interior's approval of the proposed expansion.The Ninth Circuit first noted that the parties’ dispute was not moot. The panel further held that Interior violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to provide a convincing statement for why the project’s impacts were insignificant. Moreover, the panel was unpersuaded that Interior was required to use the social cost of carbon metric to quantify the harm. Further, the panel found that it was less clear whether the agency had any other available metric to evaluate the project's impact. The panel remanded to the district court to decide whether an environmental impact statement was required. View "350 MONTANA V. DEBRA HAALAND" on Justia Law

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In 2020, the Ninth Circuit vacated the EPA’s conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides as violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. 136n(b). The court found that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In a subsequent petition, seeking attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), the plaintiffs in the underlying action argued that their requested attorneys’ fees should be calculated based on the market rates in San Francisco, where their petition for review was calendared for oral argument. Only one of their four attorneys is located in San Francisco. The other three are located in Portland.The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Where, as here, attorneys’ fees are incurred in connection with a petition for review in a court of appeals under FIFRA, the presumptive relevant community for calculating market rates is the legal community where counsel are located and where they do the bulk of their work. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment setting aside a land-exchange agreement between the Secretary of the Interior and King Cove, an Alaska Native village corporation. King Cove seeks to use the land it will obtain in the exchange to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to allow access to the city of Cold Bay.The panel explained that one of the purposes of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is to address the economic and social needs of Alaskans. The panel concluded that the Secretary appropriately weighed those needs against the other statutory purposes in deciding whether to enter the land-exchange agreement. The panel disagreed with the district court's conclusion that the Secretary violated the Administrative Procedure Act by departing from his predecessor's position on the land exchange without adequate explanation. Rather, the panel concluded that the Secretary acknowledged the competing policy considerations and that the prior findings that keeping the area roadless would best protect the habitat and wildlife of the Izembek Refuge. Finally, the panel concluded that the land-exchange agreement is not subject to the special procedures that ANILCA requires for the approval of transportation systems. The panel agreed with the government that the Secretary need not follow the process because 16 U.S.C. 3192(h), the land-exchange provision that he invoked, was not an "applicable law" for purposes of Title XI of ANILCA. View "Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges v. Haaland" 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 challenging the Service's "barred owl removal experiment," which was designed to protect the northern spotted owl, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The panel held that this experiment will produce a "net conservation benefit" under the plain language of the ESA’s implementing regulations because it allows the agency to obtain critical information to craft a policy to protect threatened or endangered species. The panel also held that the Service did not have to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it had adequately contemplated this experiment in its earlier analysis. Accordingly, the Service complied with both the ESA and NEPA in issuing the permits and safe harbor agreements. View "Friends of Animals v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Forest Service proposed “thinning” overcrowded areas in Cuddy Valley within Los Padres National Forest. If some trees are not removed, the forest will face increased risks of wildfires, and insects and diseases may ravage the trees, according to the Forest Service.The Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge by environmental groups. The “CE-6” exemption, 36 C.F.R. 220.6(e)(6) to the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321, unambiguously allows the Forest Service to thin trees, including larger commercially viable ones, to reduce fire hazards without having to conduct an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment. Its plain language does not limit thinning by tree age, size, or type. Nor is thinning defined to exclude commercial thinning. If the thinning project reduces fire hazards and meets certain other conditions, CE-6 greenlights the project, even if it means felling commercially viable trees. The Forest Service did not act arbitrarily in invoking the CE-6 exemption and did not violate the National Forest Management Act, 16 U.S.C. 1600, which sets certain aesthetic management standards. The Service did not have to explain how the project would meet such standards but did explain how the project area would retain sufficient scenic integrity. View "Mountain Communities for Fire Safety v. Elliott" on Justia Law

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Tecuya Ridge, within the Los Padres National Forest, is home to densely populated forest stands that the Forest Service determined to be at risk of destruction by wildfire. The Tecuya Ridge Shaded Fuelbreak Project authorized thinning 1,626 acres of forest, including approximately 1,100 acres within the protected Antimony Inventoried Roadless Area. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule generally prohibits timber cutting, sale, or removal in areas like Antimony, with some exceptions.The Ninth Circuit vacated the approval. The Service’s conclusion that the Project was consistent with the Rule was arbitrary and capricious as was its determination that 21-inch diameter trees were “generally small timber.” The Service’s determination that the Project will “maintain or improve” Antimony’s characteristics was not arbitrary; the Service articulated a satisfactory explanation. The decision to “categorically exclude” the Project from review in an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, under the National Environmental Policy Act was not arbitrary and capricious. The court agreed that Categorical Exclusion 6 (CE-6) applied and that no extraordinary circumstances prevented CE-6's application to the Project. Consistent with 36 C.F.R. 220.6, the Service analyzed each resource condition that should be considered in determining whether there were extraordinary circumstances related to the proposed action and determined that the Project would have “no significant impact” on each. The decision to locate the Project in the “wildland zone” instead of the “threat zone” was not arbitrary. View "Los Padres ForestWatch v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law