Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
by
Plaintiff Richard Daniels appealed a trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Attorney James Goss, Attorney Matthew Hart, and law firm Facey Goss & McPhee P.C. (FGM), arguing the court erred when it concluded he could not prove defendants caused his injury as a matter of law. Defendants represented plaintiff in a state environmental enforcement action where he was found liable for a hazardous-waste contamination on his property. On appeal, plaintiff claimed defendants failed to properly raise two dispositive defenses: the statute of limitations and proportional liability. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff would not have prevailed on either defense if raised and therefore affirmed the grant of judgment to defendants. View "The Estate of Richard S. Daniels, by and through Julie Lyford in her capacity as Executor et al." on Justia Law

by
Following a remand from the Vermont Supreme Court, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) denied petitioner’s request for a certificate of public good (CPG) to construct a 2.0 megawatt (MW) solar facility on Apple Hill in the Town of Bennington, Vermont. Petitioner appealed, arguing the PUC erred in: (1) denying its request to amend its petition; (2) concluding that the Bennington Town Plan and Bennington Regional Plan contained clear community standards and that the project would violate those standards; (3) applying the “modified Quechee” standard in the aesthetics analysis without having gone through rulemaking; (4) treating the provisions of the Bennington Town Plan as if they were binding zoning ordinances in violation of 24 V.S.A. 4413; (5) failing to consider the positive benefits of the project with respect to greenhouse-gas emissions in the contexts of its aesthetics analysis; and (6) applying vague and standardless tests in violation of its constitutional rights. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected significant portions of the PUC’s rationale for denying petitioner a CPG, therefore reversed and remanded for additional proceedings. View "In re Petition of Apple Hill Solar LLC" on Justia Law

by
Justin and Maureen Savage (landowners) owned a 176-acre parcel of undeveloped land in a rural area near Cavendish, Vermont. Snowstone, LLC, sought to buy a portion of landowners’ property to operate a dimensional stone extraction project. After executing the contract, Snowstone requested a jurisdictional opinion from the Act 250 district coordinator to determine whether the project would need an Act 250 permit. A group of neighboring landowners (neighbors) filed comments, arguing that the project would require said permit. The district coordinator issued a jurisdictional opinion, concluding that the proposed project needed an Act 250 permit because the project constituted “development,” defined in relevant part as “[t]he construction of improvements for commercial or industrial purposes on more than one acre of land within a municipality that has not adopted permanent zoning and subdivision bylaws.” Snowstone appealed the jurisdictional opinion to the Environmental Division, presenting the court with a revised contract that reduced the purchase price, removed the right of first refusal, and excised the deed restriction. Neighbors successfully intervened, arguing that the two parcels would be controlled by the same person due to the nature of the sales transaction, that the retained parcel would be “involved land,” and that the project would require a stormwater discharge permit with stormwater treatment facilities that would increase the amount of land necessary to operate the project beyond one acre. The court scrutinized the revised sales contract and determined that, with the excision of the former objectionable provisions, the contract evinced an arms-length transaction such that Snowstone and landowners were not one person. Accordingly, the court concluded that the entire 176 acres did not require an Act 250 permit. The Neighbors appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Snowstone, LLC Act 250 Jurisdictional Opinion" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff R.L. Vallee, Inc. appealed the Environmental Division’s decision granting an Act 250 permit to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) for a highway project involving the reconfiguration of an interstate exit. Vallee argued the court applied the incorrect standard in analyzing phosphorus discharges under Act 250 Criterion 1, and improperly evaluated the evidence of phosphorus and chloride discharges under Criterion 1. The Vermont Supreme Court found the Environmental Division applied the correct legal standard to evaluate discharges, and properly considered the evidence before it in determining that the project complies with Criterion 1. View "In re Diverging Diamond Interchange Act 250 (R.L. Vallee, Inc.)" on Justia Law

by
Katherine Hall appealed an Environmental Division decision granting summary judgment to Chittenden Resorts, LLC and RMT Associates, d/b/a Mountain Top Inn & Resort (the Resort). The Environmental Division concluded the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit to run a rental program where, pursuant to a contractual agreement, the Resort rented out private homes near the Resort. On appeal, Hall argued that the Environmental Division erred in determining that the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit. Specifically, she argued the Resort needed an amended Act 250 permit because under 10 V.S.A. 6001(14)(A), the Resort and owners of the homes involved in the rental program were a collective "person." Alternatively, she argued the Resort exercised "control" over the rental homes within the meaning of section 6001(3)(A)(i). The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed with Hall's characterization of the Resort and home owners as a collective "person." Further, the Court found the Resort did not control the rented homes contemplated by section 6001(3)(i). Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Mountain Top Inn & Resort, JO 1-391 (Hall, Appellant)" on Justia Law

by
The issue presented to the Vermont Supreme Court in this case involved a state water-quality certification made pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for the operation of hydroelectric dams. ANR certified three dams operated by Morrisville Water and Light (MWL) and imposed conditions, including those to control the minimum amount of water released from each dam to support habitat for fish. MWL appealed these conditions to the Environmental Division. American Whitewater and Vermont Paddlers’ Club (collectively the Paddlers) also appealed, arguing that the conditions at one facility did not allow for whitewater boating. The Environmental Division rejected ANR’s flow rates and imposed MWL’s proposed flow rates, affirmed ANR’s conditions regarding a winter drawdown for one site, and imposed scheduled releases of water as requested by the Paddlers. ANR appeals and MWL cross appeals. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Environmental Division erred in rejecting ANR’s interpretation of its antidegradation policy and methodology for calculating flow rate, and affirmed the Environmental Division on the winter drawdown and timed releases for the Paddlers at the Green River facility. View "In re Morrisville Hydroelectric Project Water Quality" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs R.L. Vallee, Inc. (Vallee) and Timberlake Associates, LLP (Timberlake) appealed various aspects of three decisions that culminated in the environmental division granting the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) Act 250 and stormwater discharge permits for a highway project involving the reconfiguration of an interstate exit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the environmental division erred in dismissing Vallee’s questions regarding Criterion 1 of Act 250; in all other respects, the Court affirmed. Accordingly,issuance of the stormwater permit was upheld, issuance of the Act 250 permit was reversed, and the matter remanded for the environmental division to consider Vallee’s questions concerning Criterion 1. View "In re Diverging Diamond Interchange SW Permit, Diverging Diamond Interchange A250" on Justia Law

by
Appellants, Neighbors for Healthy Communities (Neighbors), appealed the Environmental Division’s decision to grant an Act 250 permit application to appellees, North East Materials Group, LLC (NEMG) and Rock of Ages Corp. (ROA), for a rock-crushing operation in Graniteville in the Town of Barre. Neighbors argued the court erred in granting NEMG’s application because the proposed operation does not comply with either Act 250 Criterion 1, with respect to air pollution due to silica dust, or Criterion 8, with respect to noise from off-site truck traffic. The Vermont Supreme Court found the trial court committed no error in concluding that NEMG’s rock-crushing operation complied with Act 250 Criterion 1 and Criterion 8. View "In re North East Materials Group, LLC/Rock of Ages Corp. Act 250 Permit" on Justia Law

by
This matter stemmed from a trial court order finding defendant-appellant Richard Daniels liable for the release of hazardous waste on his property, granting summary judgment in favor of the State, and issuing an injunction compelling defendant to investigate and conduct remedial action on the property site. On appeal, defendant contested the award of summary judgment to the State and the scope of the injunction ordered by the court, and he contended the court erred in denying his motion to revisit his statute-of-limitations defense. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. Parkway Cleaners et al." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Swanton Wind LLC appealed three determinations by the Public Utility Commission. In September 2016, petitioner requested the Public Utility Commission to grant a certificate of public good (CPG), authorizing petitioner to build a twenty-megawatt wind-powered electric-generation facility in Swanton, Vermont. Petitioner paid a $100,000 fee as part of its CPG petition, which was required by 30 V.S.A. 248b. During the next nine months, petitioner and the other parties to the proceeding engaged in substantial activity, and participating in prehearing conferences with the Commission. In early June 2017, the parties submitted filings with proposed schedules for how the proceeding should continue. As part of those filings, the Department of Public Service argued the petition and evidence were insufficient, concerned that petitioner’s filings lacked a final system-impact study. In a June 22, 2017 order, the Commission agreed, finding that it needed a final system-impact study prior to the technical hearings in order to evaluate the petition. Petitioner moved for reconsideration, which was denied. Petitioner then requested to withdraw its petition pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1), and it requested that the Commission return the $100,000 fee it paid pursuant to 30 V.S.A. 248b. In response, several parties argued that the Commission should require petitioner to pay attorney’s fees. In a January 3, 2018 order, the Commission denied petitioner’s request to return the 248b fee, saying it lacked jurisdiction to do so. It granted voluntary dismissal without prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2), rather than Rule 41(a)(1). It did not award attorney’s fees, as the parties requested, because it found no exceptional circumstances to justify an award. No party appealed that finding. However, the Commission did order that the parties could request attorney’s fees and costs for this proceeding if petitioner chose to refile the petition in the future. Petitioner appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the Commission erred in concluding it lacked jurisdiction to refund the 248b fee, and erred in concluding it could reopen findings from a final order in a previous proceeding. The Court reversed and remanded the Commission’s order regarding the 248b, and struck the Commission’s order regarding attorney’s fees. View "In re Petition of Swanton Wind LLC" on Justia Law