Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
In 2019, the United States Forest Service (“FS”) issued a Record of Decision (“ROD”) authorizing livestock grazing for 10 years on land in the Upper Green River Area Rangeland (“UGRA”) in Wyoming. Two sets of petitioners-appellants, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club (collectively, “CBD”) and Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for Wile Rockies and Yellowstone to Unitas Connection (collectively “WWP”) challenged the UGRA Project under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”), and the Administrative Procedures Act. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded: (1) the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failures in the Biological Opinion to consider certain impacts the UGRA would have on female grizzly bears was arbitrary and capricious, but that the Opinion’s reliance on certain conservation measures was not; and (2) the Forest Service’s reliance on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion was arbitrary and capricious. As to WWP’s NFMA claims, the Court determined the ROD’s failure to consider the adequacy of forage and cover for migratory birds in the Project area was arbitrary and capricious. The Court remanded without vacated to the agencies to address deficiencies identified. View "Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Audubon of Kansas v. United States Department of Interior, et al.
Appellant Audubon of Kansas (Audubon) was frustrated with federal bureaucracy: the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) knew for decades that junior water-rights-holders were impairing its senior water right in Quivira Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge), threatening the endangered species there. Despite years of study and negotiation between the Service, state agencies, and Kansas water districts, the Refuge water right remained impaired. Audubon filed this lawsuit seeking to force the Service to protect the Refuge water right. But in 2023, the Service did act by requesting full administration of the Refuge water right, which was a remedy Audubon sought for its failure-to-act claim. For its claims of unlawful agency action, Audubon also sought to set aside an agreement between the Service and a water district. The Tenth Circuit determined all material terms of this agreement expired. The Service argued Audubon’s claims were moot; Audubon countered that its claims weren't moot or that a mootness exception should apply. To this, the Tenth Circuit concluded Audubon’s claim of unlawful agency action under 5 U.S.C. § 706(2) was moot, and that claim was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. As for Audubon’s claim of agency inaction under § 706(1), the Court found the mootness exception of “capable of repetition but evading review” applied, but the Court lacked jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act. View "Audubon of Kansas v. United States Department of Interior, et al." on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al.
In 2019, Western Watersheds Project sued to challenge the issuance of permits that expired in 2018. The district court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that decision: Western Watersheds Project’s claims were brought against expired permits that had already been renewed automatically by 43 U.S.C. § 1752(c)(2). And the timing of a new environmental analysis of the new permits was within the Secretary’s discretion under 43 U.S.C. § 1752(i). Western Watersheds Project, therefore, lacked Article III standing because its claims were not redressable. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al." on Justia Law
Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license to Interim Storage Partners to store spent nuclear fuel near the New Mexico border. New Mexico challenged the grant of this license, invoking the Administrative Procedure Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Commission moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Objecting to the motion, New Mexico invoked jurisdiction under the combination of the Hobbs Act, and the Atomic Energy Act. The Tenth Circuit determined these statutes could combine to trigger jurisdiction only when the petitioner was an aggrieved party in the licensing proceeding. This limitation applied here because New Mexico didn’t participate in the licensing proceeding or qualify as an aggrieved party. "New Mexico just commented to the Commission about its draft environmental impact statement. Commenting on the environmental impact statement didn’t create status as an aggrieved party, so jurisdiction isn’t triggered under the combination of the Hobbs Act and Atomic Energy Act." The Court found the Nuclear Waste Policy Act governed the establishment of a federal repository for permanent, not temporary storage by private parties like Interim Storage. And even when an agency acts ultra vires, the Court lacked jurisdiction when the petitioner had other available remedies: New Mexico had other available remedies by seeking intervention in the Commission’s proceedings. So the Commission’s motion to dismiss the petition was granted for lack of jurisdiction. View "Balderas, et al. v. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al.
Plaintiffs Citizens for Constitutional Integrity and Southwest Advocates, Inc. appealed the rejection of their challenges to the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), and Senate Rule XXII, the so-called Cloture Rule, which required the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to halt debate. The Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), heightened the requirements for regulatory approval of mining-permit applications. The Rule was promulgated by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (the Office) in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Within a month of the Stream Protection Rule taking effect on January 19, 2017, both Houses of Congress had passed a joint resolution disapproving the Rule pursuant to the CRA, and President Trump had signed the joint resolution into law. According to Plaintiffs, the repeal of the Rule enabled the approval of a 950.55-acre expansion of the King II Coal Mine (the Mine), located in La Plata County, Colorado, and owned by GCC Energy. Plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the federal government and several high-ranking Department of the Interior officials in their official capacities (collectively, Defendants) seeking: (1) a declaration that the CRA and the Cloture Rule were unconstitutional and that the Stream Protection Rule was therefore valid and enforceable; (2) vacation of the approval of the King II Mine permit modification and an injunction against expanded mining activities authorized by the modification; and (3) attorney fees. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs' challenges to the CRA and held that they lacked standing to challenge the Cloture Rule. View "Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Rocky Mountain Wild v. United States Forest Service, et al.
For years the parties in this case litigated the propriety of a proposed development in the Wolf Creek Ski Area—which the US Forest Service managed. The proposed development was a plan for highway access known as “the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project.” Plaintiff challenged this plan because of alleged environmental risks to the surrounding national forest. The highway-access litigation continued, but relevant here was a 2018 FOIA request Plaintiff submitted asking Defendant for “all agency records regarding the proposed Village at Wolf Creek Access Project.” Plaintiff’s request caused an enormous undertaking by Defendant. The statute instructed government agencies to use reasonable efforts to produce responsive records upon request. Beyond that, FOIA also exempted nine categories of records from public disclosure. Plaintiff requested and received voluminous records under FOIA, but claimed Defendants United States Forest Service (“USFS”) and United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) abused these statutory limitations to hide information about projects that harmed the environment. The district court rejected Plaintiff’s speculative theory and found USFS’s efforts to comply with Plaintiff’s FOIA request reasonable. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Wild v. United States Forest Service, et al." on Justia Law
Suncor Energy v. EPA
The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s own written decision indicated the EPA concluded that the statutory and regulatory definitions of “small refinery” did not provide specific “guidance or limits” on how the terms “refinery” and “average aggregate daily crude oil throughput” should have been “evaluated.” Accordingly, the EPA proceeded as though it “ha[d] discretion to choose what factors and information it w[ould] consider in this evaluation.” The EPA’s decisions to deny an extension of a temporary exemption to “small refineries” from complying with the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program were reversed and remanded. "That does not mean that the EPA could not again arrive at the same conclusion. But, to do so, the EPA would need to (a) either consider and apply its own regulatory definition of “facility” to the circumstances presented here or explain why that regulatory definition is inapplicable, (b) provide clear guidance on its integration analysis, to the extent it continues to rely on that factor, and (c) omit any consideration of Suncor’s management structure or public statements unless it can demonstrate that those factors are somehow consistent with, and have a reasonable connection to, the statutory and regulatory definitions of the term “refinery.” View "Suncor Energy v. EPA" on Justia Law
Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al.
This case arises from a regulatory dispute involving a hydroelectric project. The project aimed to boost a municipality’s water supply. To obtain more water, the municipality proposed to raise a local dam and expand a nearby reservoir. But implementation of the proposal would require amendment of the municipality’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a discharge permit to the municipality. A group of conservation organizations challenged the Corps’ decision by petitioning in federal district court. While the petition was pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed amendment of the municipality’s license to raise the dam and expand the reservoir. The Commission’s amendment of the municipality’s license triggered a jurisdictional question: if federal courts of appeals had exclusive jurisdiction over petitions challenging decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did this jurisdiction extend to challenges against the Corps’ issuance of a permit to allow discharges required for the modification of a hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? The district court answered yes, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The conservation organizations were challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, not the Commission’s amendment of a license. So the statute didn’t limit jurisdiction to the court of appeals. View "Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al." on Justia Law
Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al.
In 2018, Garfield County, Utah sought to chip-seal a 7.5-mile portion of the Burr Trail known as the Stratton Segment. Before the County could begin its chip-sealing project, it was legally required to consult with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) about the project’s scope and impact and obtain BLM’s approval. After doing so, Garfield County completed the project. Soon after Garfield County chip-sealed the Stratton Segment, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other conservation groups sued BLM and the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”). Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), SUWA alleged that BLM had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when approving the chip-sealing project. The district court disagreed and dismissed SUWA’s claims. SUWA raised the same issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit held that BLM didn’t act arbitrarily and capriciously in informally determining that Garfield County had an R.S. 2477 right-of-way over the Stratton Segment. After reviewing the record, the Court disagreed with SUWA that BLM “purported to” rely on IM 2008-175 in its R.S. 2477 determination. "Instead, BLM properly relied on its authority under our caselaw to informally determine, for BLM’s own purposes, that Garfield County holds its asserted R.S. 2477 right-of-way. Thus, BLM’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." View "Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law