Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
by
The jaguar is a large felid found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Pertinent here, the jaguar was listed as a foreign endangered species in 1972. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule designating 764,207 acres in New Mexico and Arizona as critical jaguar habitat. Plaintiffs filed suit, contending the Service’s designation was arbitrary and capricious. The district court ruled in favor of the Service. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agency did not comply with the regulation, and the Tenth Circuit's "resolution of this issue is beyond doubt. Further, the agency had a chance to rectify this error, but failed to do so. When an agency does not comply with its own regulations, it acts arbitrarily and capriciously. " The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "NM Farm & Livestock Bureau v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law

by
The Colorado Roadless Rule, which the Forest Service adopted in 2012, prohibits road construction in designated areas but included an exception for the North Fork Coal Mining Area (the “North Fork Exception”). In prior litigation, a district court concluded agency decisions violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and vacated the North Fork Exception. Following these decisions, the Forest Service prepared a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“North Fork SFEIS”) and readopted the Exception, Roadless Area Conservation. Mountain Coal Company, LLC, submitted lease modification requests in connection with coal leases in the area. In response, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“Leasing SFEIS”) and approved the requests. In the lawsuit that followed, a coalition of environmental organizations alleged the agencies violated NEPA and the APA by unreasonably eliminating alternatives from detailed study in the North Fork SFEIS and the Leasing SFEIS. The district court rejected these challenges. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed as to the North Fork SFEIS, holding that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to study in detail the “Pilot Knob Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. Accordingly, the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate the North Fork Exception. With respect to the Leasing SFEIS, the Tenth Circuit held NEPA did not require consideration of the “Methane Flaring Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. View "High Country Conservation v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

by
Thomas Alpern claimed the United States Forest Service improperly charges him a fee when he entered Maroon Valley to park and hike. He cited an provision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) he claimed prohibited charging a fee "solely for parking." He argued that this prohibition overrode another REA provision that allowed agencies to charge a fee when certain listed amenities were present, like picnic tables, security patrols, trash bins, and interpretive signs. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding section 6802(d)(1)(A) prohibited charging fees “[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]” something Alpern did not do. The Court found Alpern parked in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed in section 6802(f)(4), not along a road or trailside. So it affirmed the district court’s decision to reject Alpern’s as-applied challenge to the Maroon Valley fee program. View "Alpern v. Ferebee" on Justia Law

by
At issue here were three EPA orders granting extensions of the small refinery exemption to the Clean Air Act (“CAA”). Those orders were not made available to the public, and were challenged by a group of renewable fuels producers who claimed they found out about the extensions through news articles or public company filings (“the Biofuels Coalition”), and their petition to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals raised multiple questions. The EPA opposed the Biofuels Coalition’s appeal, as did the three recipients of the small refinery extensions, who were granted leave to intervene. The Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the Biofuels Coalition had standing to sue; (2) the Tenth Circuit had jurisdiction over this dispute; (3) the amended Clean Air Act allowed the EPA to grant an “extension” of the small refinery exemption, but not a stand-alone “exemption” in response to a convincing petition; and (4) the EPA exceeded its statutory authority in granting those petitions because there was nothing for the agency to “extend” because none of the three small refineries here consistently received an exemption in the years preceding its petition. The Tenth Circuit rejected the Biofuels Coalition’s claim that the EPA read the word “disproportionate” out of the statute, and disagreed with almost all of the Biofuels Coalition’s assertions that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in granting the extension petitions. The Tenth Circuit held the agency abused its discretion, however, by failing to address the extent to which the three refineries were able to recoup their compliance costs by charging higher prices for the fuels they sell. “The EPA has studied and staked out a policy position on this issue. One of the refineries expressly raised the issue in its extension petition. It was not reasonable for the agency to ignore it.” View "Renewable Fuels Assn. v. EPA" on Justia Law

by
The Rio Grande was one of only a handful of rivers that created critical habitat for plants, animals, and humans. “And it is a fact of life that not enough water exists to meet the competing needs.” Recognizing these multiple uses, Congress has authorized the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain a balance between the personal, commercial, and agricultural needs of the people in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley and the competing needs of the plants and animals. WildEarth Guardians claimed the Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the needs of two endangered species that live along the river: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow. The group filed suit under the Endangered Species Act, arguing the Army Corps of Engineers failed to exercise its discretion and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about alternative water management policies that would help protect these species. The district court concluded the Army Corps of Engineers was not authorized by the statute to allocate additional water to species’ needs and therefore was not required to consult with FWS. Finding no error in the district court’s reasoning, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

by
The United States sought to enjoin the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe and several individual members from selling hunting and fishing licenses that authorized members to take wildlife from the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe was not a federally recognized Indian tribe, but it nonetheless claimed to have tribal rights, including hunting and fishing rights, related to the Reservation. The district court held the Tribe had no authority to issue licenses. The court, however, declined to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the issuance of future licenses against both the individual defendants and the Tribe. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe lacks authority to issue hunting and fishing licenses, and found the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to issue a permanent injunction. View "United States v. Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe" on Justia Law

by
In 1988, defendant United States Forest Service designated a 2,380 acre portion of the Manti-La Sal National Forest’s highest elevations, namely the summits and ridges of Mt. Peale, Mt. Mellenthin, and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, as the Mt. Peale Research Natural Area (RNA). In June 2013, the Utah Wildlife Board approved UDWR’s “Utah Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan.” Among other things, UDWR’s plan anticipated the release of a target population of 200 mountain goats into the La Sal Mountains adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest for the express purposes of hunting and viewing. The FS, concerned the goats might adversely affect the habitat of the higher alpine regions of the national forest, asked the Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (UWDR) to delay implementation of its plan while the FS in coordination with UDWR studied the plan’s expected impact on the national forest and the RNA. UDWR rejected the FS’s request for an outright delay, and indicated it would begin implementing its plan by transplanting a small number of goats into the mountains, but would work cooperatively with the FS to assess impacts and develop a strategy to prevent overutilization of the habitat. In September 2013, UDWR released twenty mountain goats on State lands adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. A year later, UDWR released an additional fifteen mountain goats on the same State lands. The goats moved into the La Sal Mountains’ higher elevations, wallowing and foraging within the national forest and more particularly within the Mt. Peale RNA. Plaintiff Grand Canyon Trust demanded the FS: (1) prohibit UDWR from introducing additional mountain goats onto State lands adjacent to the national forest; (2) regulate UDWR’s occupancy and use of the national forest by requiring it to obtain special use authorization before releasing additional mountain goats on State lands; and (3) immediately remove the mountain goats already in the national forest. Determining UDWR did not release the goats on federal lands, the FS elected to "wait and see" before initiating any action against UDWR, and to "gather and evaluate data sufficient to determine whether action was warranted." GCT thereafter filed for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of GCT's complaint, concurring with the trial court that GCT "cleverly amalgamated federal law in an attempt to find some pathway to judicial review." The Tenth Circuit concluded GCT failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and affirmed dismissal of the complaint. View "Utah Native Plant Society v. U.S. Forest Service" on Justia Law

by
The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in granting more than 300 applications for permits to drill horizontal, multi-stage hydraulically fracked wells in the Mancos Shale area of the San Juan Basin in northeastern New Mexico. Appellants, four environmental advocacy groups) sued the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Secretary of the BLM, alleging that the BLM authorized the drilling without fully considering its indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment or on historic properties. The district court denied Appellants a preliminary injunction, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision in 2016. After merits briefing, the district court concluded that the BLM had not violated either NHPA or NEPA and dismissed Appellants’ claims with prejudice. Appellants appealed, and this time, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The Tenth Circuit determined that, as to five EAs, Appellants have demonstrated that the BLM needed to, but did not, consider the cumulative impacts of water resources associated with 3,960 reasonably foreseeable horizontal Mancos Shale wells. The BLM’s issuance of FONSIs and approval of APDs associated with these EAs was therefore arbitrary and capricious and violated NEPA. The matter was remanded for the district court to vacate the FONSIs and APDs associated with those five environmental analyses; the Tenth Circuit affirmed as to all other issues. View "Dine Citizens v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

by
WildEarth Guardians appealed after the United States Forest Service published a 2014 environmental assessment (“EA”) to the Tennessee Creek Project, and subsequently issued a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact. The Service undertook the project for a stated purpose of protecting from insects, disease, fire, improvement of wildlife habitat and to maintain watershed conditions. One of the conclusions in the EA determined none of these actions would adversely impact the Canadian lynx. WildEarth Guardians alleged the EA failed to adequately assess the Project’s effects on lynx and by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). The district court upheld the agency action. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the Agency’s actions, finding the Service satisfied its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) obligations when it reasonably concluded in its EA that under a worst-case scenario the lynx would not be adversely affected by the Project and reasonably concluded that an EIS was not necessary. View "WildEarth Guardians v. Conner" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Audubon Society of Greater Denver sought review of the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a project to store more water in the Chatfield Reservoir in Colorado. Audubon argued the Corps’ review and approval of the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The district court denied the petition for review after concluding that the Corps’ decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Audubon also moved to supplement the administrative record. The district court denied the motion because it found that the administrative record sufficiently informed the Corps’ analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Audubon Society v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law