Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2011, San Jose acquired the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle, constructed in 1922, planning to demolish the Trestle and replace it with a new steel truss pedestrian bridge. The city approved the project, adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), and found that the Trestle was not a historical resource. The Trestle was not listed in the California Register of Historical Resources. Had it been listed, the city would have been statutorily mandated to consider it a historical resource. In 2017, the California State Historical Resources Commission approved the listing of the Trestle. In 2018, the city submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) a “Notification of Lake or Streambed Alteration” for the project. The city's 2014 Streambed Alteration Agreement (SAA) had expired. CDFW signed the final SAA, finding that the project would not have any significant impacts on fish or wildlife “with the measures specified in the 2014 MND and the [SAA].” The Conservancy unsuccessfully sought judicial intervention. The court of appeal affirmed. The city’s actions in obtaining the 2018 SAA did not require supplemental environmental review; the approval of the MND in 2014 included approval of the SAA and obtaining the new SAA did not involve any “new discretionary approval.” View "Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Land Use Commission of the State of Hawai'i erred in a 2017 by interpreting a condition of an administrative order issued almost thirty years earlier prohibiting a resort (Resort) from irrigating its golf course with "potable" water to mean that brackish water is per se "non-potable" but that the Commission did not err in determining that the Resort did not violate the condition under its plain meaning. In 1991, the Commission issued an order approving the Resort's petition seeking to effect district reclassification of a large tract of rural and agricultural land sort that the Resort could build an eighteen-hole golf course. The Commission approved the Resort's petition subject to the condition stating that the Resort was not allowed to use potable water to irrigate the golf course. In 2017, the Commission determined that the Resort's use of brackish water from two wells for golf course irrigation was allowable under the condition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission erred in interpreting the condition to mean that brackish water is per se non-potable; but (2) the Commission did not clearly err in concluding that the water from the two wells was non-potable under county water quality standards. View "Lana'ians for Sensible Growth v. Land Use Commission" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta). In 2009, the California Legislature found and declared the “Delta watershed and California’s water infrastructure are in crisis and existing Delta policies are not sustainable,” and that “[r]esolving the crisis requires fundamental reorganization of the state’s management of Delta watershed resources.” It enacted the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009. As part of the Act, the Legislature created the Delta Stewardship Council (Council) as an independent agency of the state and charged it with adopting and implementing a legally enforceable “Delta Plan,” a comprehensive, long-term management plan. Following the preparation of a program-level environmental impact report (PEIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Council adopted the Delta Plan in May 2013, which included a set of recommendations and regulatory policies to achieve the Plan's goals. Thereafter, seven lawsuits were filed by various groups challenging the validity of the Delta Plan, the Delta Plan regulations, and the PEIR for the Delta Plan. After the lawsuits were coordinated into one proceeding, the trial court issued written rulings in May and July 2016 collectively rejecting the legal challenges predicated on violations of the Delta Reform Act and the APA, with a few exceptions. In April 2018, while appeals were pending, the Council adopted amendments and certified the PEIR for the Delta Plan Amendments. In the "merits" case, the issue before the Court of Appeal was the validity of the trial court’s rulings on legal challenges to the Delta Plan and Delta Plan regulations. In the "fee" case, the issue presented was the validity of the trial court’s attorney fee order. The Court agreed with the Council that the trial court erred in finding that it violated the Act by failing to adopt performance measure targets to achieve certain objectives of the Act. The Court also agreed with the Council that the remaining issues raised in its appeal regarding the statutory violations found by the trial court were mooted by the adoption of the Delta Plan Amendments. The Court found no error in the fee award. In light of the mootness determination, the Court reversed and remanded judgments entered in the four cases appealed by the Council in the "merits" case with directions the superior court dismiss the portions that were moot. In all other respects, the Court affirmed judgment entered in each of the six coordinated cases in the merits case. View "Delta Stewardship Council Cases" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Department of Defense in an action challenging the Department's construction and operation of an aircraft base in Okinawa, Japan. Plaintiffs also challenged the potential adverse effects on the endangered Okinawa dugong. The panel held that the Department complied with the procedural requirement that it "take into account" the effects of its proposed action on foreign property under Section 402 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The panel also held that the Department's finding that its proposed action would have no adverse effect on the foreign property was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and/or contrary to law in violation of Section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In this case, the Department met its procedural obligations and its finding of "no adverse impact" was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Esper" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted the Forest Service's request to publish the unpublished Memorandum Disposition with modifications. The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Forest Service in an action alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The panel held that the Forest Service's determination that the Crystal Clear Restoration Project did not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was arbitrary and capricious for two independent reasons. First, the effects of the Project are highly controversial and uncertain, thus mandating the creation of an EIS. Second, the Forest Service failed to identify and meaningfully analyze the cumulative impacts of the Project. Because an EIS is required, and because the findings in the EIS could prompt the Forest Service to change the scope of the Project or the methods it plans to use, the panel did not reach the remaining claims. The panel reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bark v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Beginning around 1915, NPRC operated a Jersey City chemical plant, turning chromite ore into chromium chemicals for dyeing cloth and tanning leather. The process generated hazardous chemical waste that eventually seeped into the soil and groundwater. During both World Wars, the production of chromium chemicals was regulated. During World War II, the government designated chromium chemicals as “critical” war materials and implemented controls concerning labor conditions, supplies, subsidies, and pricing. In 1944, the Chemicals Bureau officially recommended that producers switch to a quicker, more wasteful process. Government orders did not direct how the ores were to be processed, how the chemicals were to be made, or how waste should be handled. PPG purchased the site in 1954 and processed chromium chemicals there until 1963, using essentially the same processes as NPRC, including stockpiling the waste outdoors. PPG has spent $367 million to remediate the site and other contaminated areas. PPG sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607, seeking recovery and contribution for costs associated with cleanup. After four years of discovery, the district court granted the government summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Governmental involvement with the plant during the wars did not make it an “operator” liable for the cleanup costs associated with the waste. Governmental actions in relation to the plant were consistent with general wartime influence over the industry and did not extend to control over pollution-related activities. View "PPG Industries Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Forest Service and intervenors in an action challenging the Forest Service's issuance of grazing authorizations between 2006 and 2015 on seven allotments in the Malheur National Forest. ONDA argued that the Forest Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its application of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) by failing to analyze and show that the grazing authorizations were consistent with the Forest Plan. The panel held that ONDA's challenge is justiciable where the challenge was sufficiently ripe and the dispute was not moot. On the merits, the panel held that the Forest Service met its procedural and substantive obligations pursuant to the NFMA and the APA in issuing the grazing authorizations. In this case, because the Forest Service was not obligated by statute, regulation, or caselaw to memorialize each site-specific grazing authorization's consistency with the forest plan, the panel held that the absence of such a document is not in itself arbitrary and capricious. Furthermore, the Forest Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to the NFMA's consistency requirement as applied to Standard GM-1 in issuing any of the challenged grazing authorizations. Finally, the Forest Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to Standard 5 in issuing any of the challenged grazing authorizations. View "Oregon Natural Desert Assoc. v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Maui’s wastewater reclamation facility collects sewage, partially treats it, and daily pumps around four million gallons of treated water into the ground through four wells. This effluent then travels about a half-mile, through groundwater, to the Pacific Ocean. Environmental groups brought a citizens’ suit under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1365, alleging that Maui was “discharg[ing]” a “pollutant” to “navigable waters” without the required permit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the environmentalists. The Supreme Court vacated. The Act requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge. The Court rejected both the Ninth Circuit’s broad “fairly traceable” interpretation and the total exclusion of all discharges through groundwater, as urged by Maui and reflected in the EPA’s recent Interpretive Statement, that “all releases of pollutants to groundwater” are excluded from the scope of the permitting program." That interpretation is inconsistent with the statute’s reference to “any addition” of a pollutant from a "point source" to navigable waters, given the statute’s inclusion of “wells” in the “point source” definition; wells ordinarily discharge pollutants through groundwater. The statute is intended to provide federal regulation of identifiable sources of pollutants entering navigable waters without undermining the states’ longstanding regulatory authority over land and groundwater. A permit is required when there is a discharge from a point source directly into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge. Many factors may be relevant to determining whether a particular discharge is the functional equivalent of one directly into navigable waters. Time and distance will be the most important factors in most cases, but other relevant factors may include the nature of the material through which the pollutant travels and the extent to which the pollutant is diluted or chemically changed as it travels. Although this interpretation does not present a clear line, the EPA has applied the permitting provision to some discharges through groundwater for over 30 years, with no evidence of inadministrability or an unmanageable expansion in the statute’s scope. View "County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for writ of mandamus and ordered the EPA to respond to the NRDC's petition requesting that the EPA end the use of a dangerous pesticide, tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), in household pet products. The panel held that the EPA has unreasonably and egregiously delayed the performance of its statutory duties on this critical matter of public health and that the circumstances warrant the extraordinary remedy of issuing a writ of mandamus. The panel considered the factors established in Telecomms. Research and Action Ctr. (TRAC) v. FCC, 750 F.2d 70, 79–80 (D.C. Cir. 1984), and held that the factors supported mandamus relief where, for more than a decade, the EPA has frustrated NRDC's ability to seek judicial review by withholding final agency action, all the while endangering the well-being of millions of children and ignoring its "core mission" of "protecting human health and the environment." The panel noted that, if the EPA begins cancellation proceedings, then the panel expects cancellation proceedings to conclude within one year of the date of this decision, and any extension beyond that must be supported by a showing of good cause. If the agency denies NRDC's petition on the merits, then NRDC may appeal that final agency action under the standards of the Administrative Procedure Act and any other applicable law. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA" on Justia Law

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GIP purchased property from a steel mill’s bankruptcy estate, omitting the “Eastern Excluded Property” (EEP). GIP purchased some personal property located on the EEP, which contains two piles comprising slag (a steel manufacturing byproduct), kish (a byproduct of a blast furnace operation), and scrap. Each pile occupied more than 10 acres and was more than 80 feet high. GIP's "Itemization of Excluded Item from Sale” referred to: “All by-products of production other than kish and 420,000 cubic yards of slag” on the EEP “with a reasonable period of time to remove such items.” The EPA began investigating contaminants leaching from the piles. While GIP was negotiating for the separation of recoverable metals, the EPA decided to reduce the size of the piles. In 2009-2013, EPA contractors recovered and sold 245,890 tons of material and recovered and used 92,500 cubic yards of slag onsite for environmental remediation; they processed approximately 50% of the piles, spending about $14.5 million, about a million more than income from sales. The EPA compacted the materials to minimize leachate, leaving further remediation to state environmental authorities. GIP did not attempt its own recovery operation during the EPA remediation. GIP sued, alleging “takings” of the slag, kish, and scrap. The trial court awarded GIP $755,494 for the slag but awarded zero damages for the kish and scrap. The Federal Circuit vacated in part. GIP had no claim to any particular subset of slag. The trial court erred in finding that the EPA somehow prevented GIP from recovering its full allotment of slag; GIP cannot establish a cognizable property interest in the slag that was recovered. The court affirmed in part. GIP’s unreliable calculations left the trial court without competent evidence relating to a critical component of the damages calculation with respect to the kish and scrap. View "Gadsden Industrial Park, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law