Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA
This case stemmed from a dispute over the regulatory schemes of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the energy facilities site locations act (EFSLA), and how those schemes applied to a lease agreement between respondents, the Port of Vancouver USA and its board of commissioners (Port), and Tesoro Corporation and Savage Companies (Tesoro). The lease agreement permitted Tesoro to construct a petroleum based energy facility on the Port's property. The agreement remained contingent on review by, and certification from, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), the primary decision-making authority in the field of energy facilities siting and regulation under EFSLA. EFSLA incorporated by reference numerous regulations from SEPA, including WAC 197-11-714(3) and -070(1)(b) which precluded agencies "with jurisdiction" from taking actions that would "[l]imit the choice of reasonable alternatives" prior to the issuance of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Port entered into the lease agreement with Tesoro prior to EFSEC's issuance of an EIS. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center (collectively, “Riverkeeper”) sued the Port, alleging, among other things, that the lease agreement limited the choice of reasonable alternatives available to the Port, thereby violating SEPA. The trial court summarily dismissed Riverkeeper's SEPA claims in favor of the Port, holding that the contingencies contained within the lease preserved reasonable alternatives available to the Port. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding the Port's lease with Tesoro did not violate SEPA. However, the Court affirmed only the outcome; the Court adopted the trial court’s reasoning and affirmed. View "Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA" on Justia Law
Snohomish County v. Pollution Control Hr’gs Bd.
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Washington's vested rights doctrine excused compliance with the requirements of a municipal storm water permit. The Washington State Department of Ecology issued the third iteration of a municipal storm water permit pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program (established by the Act). Various permittees appealed this portion of the permit to the Pollution Control Hearings Board, claiming that it violated the vested rights doctrine because it compelled them to retroactively apply new storm water regulations to completed development applications. The Pollution Control Hearings Board held that the vested rights doctrine did not apply to storm water regulations permittees must implement as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the vested rights doctrine excused compliance with the storm water regulations because they were "land use control ordinances." Finding that the Court of Appeals erred in its judgment, the Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the Pollution Control Hearings Board's order. View "Snohomish County v. Pollution Control Hr'gs Bd." on Justia Law
In re Rights to Waters of Yakima River Drainage Basin (Acquavella)
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned the adjudication of water rights in the Yakima River Basin. The parties brought various challenges to the conditional final order of the trial court determining their water rights. The Court of appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court for direct appeal. Upon review, the Court reversed the trial court's decision concerning the quantification of irrigable land on the Yakama reservation, and reversed the trial court's determinations regarding the Nation's right to store water. The Court affirmed the trial court's conclusions regarding the rights of nontribal claimants to excess water, but reversed the application of the "future development excuse" under RCW 90.14.140(2)(c) for nonuse of a water right. Finally, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of several individual water rights claims. View "In re Rights to Waters of Yakima River Drainage Basin (Acquavella)" on Justia Law
Five Corners Family Farmers v. Washington
Respondent and Cross-Appellant Easterday Ranches, Inc. sought to operate a large feedlot in Franklin County. At the suggestion of the Department of Ecology (Department), Easterday acquired water rights from a neighboring farm. Appellants Scott Collin, Five Corners Family Farmers, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP), and the Sierra Club filed a declaratory judgment action against the State of Washington, the Department, and Easterday seeking a declaration that the stockwatering exemption from the permit requirement in RCW 90.44.050 is limited to uses of less than 5,000 gallons per day. Appellants further sought an injunction ordering Easterday to cease groundwater use without a permit. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that, under the plain language of the statute, withdrawals of groundwater for stock-watering purposes are not limited to any particular quantity by RCW 90.44.050. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court's grant of summary judgment to the respondents. View "Five Corners Family Farmers v. Washington" on Justia Law
Laurer v. Pierce County
Petitioners Louise Lauer and Darrell de Tienne separately owned properties that border a lot owned by Mike and Shima Garrison. Through a Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) petition, Petitioners challenged a fish and wildlife variance granted to the Garrisons by Pierce County (the County) to build a single family residence within the protective buffer zone of a stream that runs across the Garrisons' property. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Garrisons' rights vested in 2004 when they submitted their building application. The Garrisons also raised questions about the standing and timeliness of Petitioners' claim, as well as whether the relevant critical area regulation even applies to the Garrisons' shoreline property. Upon review, the Court held that Petitioners properly petitioned the superior court for review and that, because the Garrisons' building permit application contained misrepresentations of material fact, the Garrisons' rights did not vest in 2004. View "Laurer v. Pierce County" on Justia Law
Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning v. Whatcom County
The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether RCW 82.02.020, which generally prohibits local governmental bodies from imposing taxes or fees on development, applied to shoreline master programs (SMP) created pursuant to the Shoreline Management Act of 1981. Members of the Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning (CRSP) owned land regulated under Whatcom County's SMP. The group filed a complaint alleging, in part, that the regulations contained in the SMP constituted a direct or indirect tax, fee or charge on development in violation of RCW 8202.020. The superior court dismissed the claim for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The appellate court affirmed. Upon review of the implicated legal authorities, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court: "[w]hile local jurisdictions play a role in tailoring SMPs to local conditions, the Shoreline Management Act dictates that the Department of Ecology retains control over the final contents and approval of SMPs. Therefore, SMP regulations are the product of state action and are not subject to RCW 82.02.020."
Feil v. E. Wash. Growth Mgmt. Hearings Bd.
Petitioners Jack and Delaphine Feil appealed the issuance of development permits for the construction of a pedestrian and bike trail by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. "Rocky Reach Trail" was scheduled for development entirely on public property. The Feils are orchardists and members of the Right to Farm Association of Baker Flats. Their property abuts the public property on which the proposed trail would be sited. They contended a developed trail would force the removal of mature fruit trees within the right-of-way, and that the trail violated multiple zoning ordinances that governed the area at issue. The Feils brought several unsuccessful appeals through the Commission and state development-management boards before taking their appeal to the superior court. The superior court dismissed their claims. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the site's comprehensive plan supported the proposed Rocky Reach Trail and affirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss the orchardists' claims.