Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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Meritor filed suit challenging the EPA's listing of the Rockwell facility and surrounding areas to the National Priorities List, alleging that the listing is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to governing regulations. The National Priorities List identifies hazardous waste sites in most urgent need of cleanup based on the threat that they pose to public and environmental health and to the public welfare. The DC Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the EPA did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by evaluating the Rockwell Site based on measurements taken before the sub-slab depressurization system was installed; by relying on a residential health benchmark when evaluating the "targets" metrics; and in calculating the "waste characteristics" component of the subsurface intrusion pathway. View "Meritor, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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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

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MPM appealed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment dismissing its claims for recovery of "remedial action" costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) as barred by the statute of limitations in 42 U.S.C. 9613(g)(2). UCC cross-appealed the district court's holding after a bench trial that UCC is liable to MPM for 95% of the cost of future "removal action." The Second Circuit held that the district court's conclusion that MPM's claims for recovery of remedial action costs were time-barred relied on an incorrect interpretation of the court's decision in New York State Electric and Gas Corp. v. FirstEnergy Corp., 766 F.3d 212 (2d Cir. 2014). Although the court agreed with the district court that UCC's corrective actions undertaken in the 1990s were remediation, the court did not understand NYSEG to mean that, for purposes of determining the timeliness of a cost recovery action, all remediation activity at a site regardless of circumstances is deemed to be part of a single remediation, so that the six year limitations period necessarily begins to run at the start of the first remedial activity. The court also held that the district court did not err in adjudicating the allocation of future removal action costs, or in allocating 95% against UCC. View "MPM Silicones, LLC v. Union Carbide Corp." on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed suit alleging that the EPA's decisions to register Enlist Duo—a pesticide designed to kill weeds on corn, soybean, and cotton fields—in 2014, 2015, and 2017, violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After determining that the petitions for review were timely and that petitioners have Article III standing, the Ninth Circuit held that NRDC waived any argument that EPA applied the incorrect standard when it registered Enlist Duo in 2014. Even absent waiver, the panel held that the NRDC's argument that the EPA applied the wrong standard is not persuasive. The panel also held that, although the EPA concedes that it cited the wrong standard, any error is harmless because the standard for unconditional registration is higher, not lower, than the standard for conditional registration. Furthermore, the panel held that substantial evidence supports the EPA's factual findings for its 2014, 2015, and 2017 registration decisions. In regard to the ESA claims, the panel held that the EPA's "no effect" findings, decision about the scope of the "action area," and "critical habitat" determinations survive deferential review. Accordingly, the court denied NFFC's petition for review; granted in part and denied in part NRDC's petition for review; and remanded without vacatur. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Imperial Irrigation District (District) supplied water from the Colorado River system to California's Imperial Valley, holding its water rights in trust for the benefit of its users, and was empowered by California law to manage the water supply for irrigation and other beneficial uses. In 2013, the District implemented an equitable distribution plan with an annual water apportionment for each category of users (2013 EDP). Michael Abatti presently owns and farms land in the Imperial Valley. Abatti, as trustee of the Michael and Kerri Abatti Family Trust, and Mike Abatti Farms, LLC (collectively, Abatti) filed a petition for writ of mandate to invalidate the 2013 EDP on the grounds that, among other things, the farmers possess water rights that entitle them to receive water sufficient to meet their reasonable irrigation needs—and the plan unlawfully and inequitably takes away these rights. Abatti's position, fairly construed, is that farmers are entitled to receive the amounts of water that they have historically used to irrigate their crops. The District contended the farmers possessed a right to water service, but not to specific amounts; the District was required to distribute water equitably to all users, not just to farmers; and that the 2013 DEP allowed the District to do so, while fulfilling its other obligations, such as conservation. The superior court granted the petition, entering a declaratory judgment that prohibited the District from distributing water in the manner set forth in the 2013 EDP, and required the District to use a historical method for any apportionment of water to farmers. The District appealed, and Abatti cross-appealed an earlier order sustaining the District's demurrer to his claims that the District's adoption of the 2013 EDP constitutes a breach of its fiduciary duty to farmers and a taking. The Court of Appeal concluded the farmers within the District possessed an equitable and beneficial interest in the District's water rights, which was appurtenant to their lands. "Although the superior court acknowledged certain of these principles, its rulings reflect that it took an unduly narrow view of the District's purposes, thus failing to account for the District's broader obligations, and took an overly expansive view of the rights of farmers." The superior court was directed to enter a new judgment: (1) granting the petition on ground that the District's failure to provide for equitable apportionment among categories of water users constituted an abuse of discretion; and (2) denying the petition on all other grounds, including as to declaratory relief. View "Abatti v. Imperial Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law

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In this case brought by two associations against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) arising out of alleged mismanagement of the groundwater-appropriation permitting process, the Supreme Court held that the two associations stated a claim under Minn. Stat. 116B.03 and that one of the associations failed to state a claim under the public trust doctrine. Two associations brought this suit against the DNR, alleging violations of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act under section 116B.03 based on alleged pollution and impairment of White Bear Lake. The associations alleged that the DNR mismanaged the groundwater-appropriations permitting process, resulting in the lake's water levels reaching historic lows. One of the associations added a claim that the DNR had violated the common-law public trust doctrine. The district court found that the DNR had violated by section 116B.03 and the public trust doctrine. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) erred in concluding that the associations did not state a claim under section 116B.03; and (2) did not err in concluding that the one association failed to state a claim under the public trust doctrine. View "White Bear Lake Restoration Ass'n, ex rel. State v. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the district court against Rocky Ford Irrigation Company on its lawsuit against Kents Lake Reservoir Company seeking clarification regarding the priority of the parties' rights and Kents Lake's obligations as to the Beaver River administration and measurement, holding that the district court erred in denying Rocky Ford's motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the Supreme Court (1) reversed the district court's denial of Rocky Ford's motion for summary judgment, holding that Rocky Ford was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the second point on which it sought a declaration of rights; (2) affirmed the court's decision refusing to declare that Kents Lake could not store its efficiency gains; (3) reversed the court's denial of Rocky Ford's request for declaratory judgment as to Kents Lake's measurement obligations under a 1931 Beaver River Decree, holding that the clarification Rocky Ford sought was warranted; (4) affirmed the court's decision refusing to rescind the agreement entered into by the parties in 1953; and (5) reversed the decision awarding attorney fees to Kents Lake and Beaver City, holding that there was no basis for a determination that Rocky Ford filed or pursued its claims in bad faith. View "Rocky Ford Irrigation Co. v. Kents Lake Reservoir Co." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted a petition for review of the EPA's denial of New York's petition challenging the EPA's asserted failure to address cross-border pollution under the Clean Air Act's Good Neighbor Provision, 42 U.S.C. 7410(a)(2)(D)(i). New York petitioned the EPA to find that power-generating and other facilities in nine different States were violating the Good Neighbor Provision by producing emissions that contributed significantly to New York's difficulty attaining or maintaining compliance with the 2008 and 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone. The court held that the EPA offered insufficient reasoning for the convoluted and seemingly unworkable showing it demanded of New York's petition. The court also held that the EPA's finding that New York did not have an air quality problem under the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone relied on two faulty interpretations of the Clean Air Act that have since been invalidated. Accordingly, the court vacated the EPA's decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "New York v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Baptistes filed suit on behalf of a class of homeowner-occupants and renters (about 8,400 households) claiming interference with the use and enjoyment of their homes and loss in property value caused by noxious odors and other air contaminants emanating from the 224-acre Bethlehem Landfill. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. While everyone in the community—including visitors, commuters, and residents—may suffer from having to breathe polluted air in public spaces, the Baptistes have identified cumulative harms that are unique to residents, such as the inability to use and enjoy their outdoor spaces. These injuries are above and beyond any injury to the public; the Baptistes sufficiently alleged a “particular damage” to sustain a private claim for public nuisance. They also stated a claim for private nuisance. Pennsylvania law does not reject a private nuisance claim on the ground that the property affected was too far from the source of the alleged nuisance. Nor does Pennsylvania law condition an individual’s right to recover private property damages on a nuisance theory on the size of the nuisance or the number of persons harmed, as opposed to the nature of the rights affected or the degree of the harm suffered. The question remains whether the Baptistes have sufficiently pleaded a cognizable injury to state an independent negligence claim. View "Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co." on Justia Law

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In these consolidated petitions, petitioners challenged area designations promulgated by the EPA for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) applicable to ground-level ozone, i.e., smog. The court found that at least one petitioner has standing to challenge each of the designations at issue. In this case, Government Petitioners have adequately demonstrated standing based on direct injuries rather than parens patriae status. On the merits, the court granted Jefferson County's petition and held that EPA has, without explanation, treated similarly situated areas—Jefferson and Boles—differently and drawn conflicting conclusions from the same data. Therefore, such inconsistent treatment is the hallmark of arbitrary agency action and requires further explanation from the EPA. The court also granted petitions for review for Monroe County, Ottawa County, Weld County, Door County, and Sheboygan County. The court denied Lake County's petition for review and granted EPA's motion to remand. View "Clean Wisconsin v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law