Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit denied petitions for review by the State of Texas and Sierra Club, challenging the EPA's action designating Bexar County, Texas as in nonattainment and three neighboring counties as in attainment with the 2015 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).After determining that venue is proper in the Fifth Circuit, the court held that the relevant statutory language in the Clean Air Act grants EPA discretionary authority to make the changes it "deems necessary." The court also held that EPA's interpretation and implementation of the statute is reasonable. In this case, because Bexar County was not compliant with the 2015 NAAQS when EPA promulgated its designation, the court concluded that the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedure Act allowed the change. In regard to the three counties, the court concluded that EPA has not arbitrarily reversed its interpretation of "contribution" and EPA did not fail to articulate a rational connection between the facts in the record and its decision not to designate the disputed counties as nonattainment. In this case, EPA used a permissible, multi-factor analysis to determine that the contributions of Atascosa, Comal, and Guadalupe Counties to Bexar County's ambient ozone levels were insufficient to merit a nonattainment designation. View "Texas v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reviewed wastewater treatment facility construction permit applications under regulations adopted in 1999. In 2014, DNREC revised its regulations and adopted new requirements. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Delaware Supreme Court was whether Artesian Wastewater Management, Inc.’s 2017 construction permit application, which Artesian characterized as an amendment to its existing 2013 wastewater treatment facility construction permit, had to comply with the new requirements of the 2014 regulations. The Environmental Appeals Board and the Superior Court decided Artesian did not have to comply with the new requirements. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Keep Our Wells Clean, et al. v. DNREC" on Justia Law

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The Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) proceeding litigated whether the water supply from natural and imported sources, which replenishes an alluvial basin from which numerous parties pumped water, was inadequate to meet the competing annual demands of those water producers, thereby creating an "overdraft" condition. Phelan ultimately became involved in the litigation as one of the thousands of entities and people who asserted they were entitled to draw water from the aquifer.The trial court subsequently defined the boundaries for the AVAA to determine which parties would be necessary parties to any global adjudication of water rights, and then determined that the aquifer encompassed within the AVAA boundaries (the AVAA basin) had sufficient hydrologic interconnectivity and conductivity to be defined as a single aquifer for purposes of adjudicating the competing groundwater rights claims. Settlement discussions ultimately produced an agreement among the vast majority of parties in which they settled their respective groundwater rights claims and agreed to support the contours of a proposed plan (the Physical Solution) designed to bring the AVAA basin into hydrological balance. Phelan, which provides water to its customers who are located outside the AVAA boundaries, became subject to the AVGC litigation because a significant source of its water is pumping from a well located in the AVAA basin.The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supports the judgment as to Phelan and Phelan was not deprived of its due process rights to present its claims. In this case, substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Physical Solution will bring the AVAA basin into balance; the trial court correctly rejected Phelan's fourth cause of action asserting it had acquired water rights as a "public use appropriator;" the phased decisional procedure did not deprive Phelan of due process; and the trial court correctly concluded that Phelan had no priority claim to return flows from native safe yield. View "Phelan Piñon Hills Community Services District v. California Water Service Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of mandamus sought by Omni Energy Group, LLC as to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management chief Eric Vendel ordering him to rule upon the validity of objections that were submitted concerning Omni's two saltwater injection well permit applications, holding that Omni was entitled to the writ.When the division chief did not render a decision on Omni's applications Omni filed a complaint against the division, Vendel, and department director Mary Mertz, sought a writ of mandamus compelling them to either issue or deny the permits. The Supreme Court granted a writ of mandamus, but instead of ordering Vendel immediately to render a decision on the applications, the Court ordered him to rule upon the validity of objections as required under Ohio Adm.Code 1501:9-3-06(H)(2)(c), holding (1) Omni had a clear legal right to, and Vendel had a clear legal duty to provide, a ruling on the validity of objections submitted against the applications; and (2) Omni did not suggest a basis for granting a writ of mandamus as to the division or to Mertz. View "State ex rel. Omni Energy Group, LLC v. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's ruling granting summary judgment to Park County Environmental Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition and an order of vacatur of the challenged exploration license in this case, holding that the district court erred in part.Lucky Minerals, Inc. submitted an exploration application seeking authorization to conduct exploration activities within its privately-owned patented mine claim block. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality granted the exploration license. The district court voided Lucky's exploration license, concluding that the 2011 Montana Environmental Policy Act amendments were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court did not err by vacating the exploration license and finding Mont. Code Ann. 75-1-206(6)(c) and (d) in violation of the Legislature's constitutional mandate to provide remedies adequate to prevent proscribed environmental harms under Mont. Const. Art. II, 3 and IX, 1. View "Park County Environmental Council v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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CBD filed suit challenging the legality of BOEM's and FWS's actions, arguing that the agencies failed to comply adequately with the procedural requirements imposed by the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Marine Fisheries Services (MMPA). Relying on a biological opinion prepared by FWS and BOEM's own environmental impact statement (EIS), BOEM's Regional Supervisor of Leasing and Plans signed a record of decision approving the Liberty project, an offshore drilling and production facility. The site of the Liberty project is governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).After determining that it had jurisdiction over CBD's claims, the Ninth Circuit vacated BOEM's approval of the Liberty project, concluding that BOEM acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to quantify the emissions resulting from foreign oil consumption in its EIS as required by NEPA, or, at least, explaining thoroughly why it cannot do so and summarizing the research upon which it relied. The panel also held that FWS violated the ESA by (1) relying upon uncertain, nonbinding mitigation measures in reaching its no-adverse-effect conclusion in its biological opinion, and (2) failing to estimate the Liberty project's amount of nonlethal take of polar bears. Because FWS's biological opinion is flawed and unlawful, the panel concluded that BOEM's reliance on FWS's opinion is arbitrary and capricious. The panel granted in part and denied in part the petition for review, remanding for further proceedings. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a highway improvement project proposed by Caltrans, claiming that the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The district court determined that Caltrans arbitrarily and capriciously relied upon the 2010 Environmental Assessment (2010 EA), as supplemented and revised, and enjoined Caltrans from continuing the Project until it finalized an appropriate environmental impact statement (EIS). The district court then entered a final judgment against Caltrans.The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to plaintiffs because none of the purported inadequacies it identified rendered the revised EA arbitrary or capricious. The panel was satisfied that Caltrans took a hard look at the consequences of the Project, and adequately considered the relevant factors. In this case, the district court's rationale for requiring an EIS was predicated on its erroneous conclusions about the Project's effects on redwood tree health and possible increases in truck traffic and noise. Therefore, the district court erred in finding Caltrans' EA arbitrary and capricious and in setting aside the 2017 finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The panel reversed the district court's judgment requiring Caltrans to produce an EIS and enjoining it from continuing the Project until it has done so. View "Bair v. California Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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MVP asked two Army Corps districts to verify that, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, MVP's proposed discharge of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the United States in furtherance of construction of a natural gas pipeline in those districts could be governed by the Army Corps' 2017 nationwide permit (NWP) referred to as NWP 12. The Huntington District issued a verification, determining that the Pipeline project met the criteria for operation under the NWP 12, excusing the project from the individual permitting process (the "Verification"). The Norfolk District did the same, issuing a reinstatement of its prior verification allowing MVP to use NWP 12 in that district (the "Reinstatement"). Petitioners filed petitions for agency review of the Verification and Reinstatement pursuant to the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and filed the instant motions to stay.The Fourth Circuit concluded that petitioners are likely to succeed on the merits of their petitions for review, and other equitable factors weigh in favor of granting the motions for stay. The court explained that the Verification was likely issued in contravention of applicable law because the Army Corps impermissibly incorporated into NWP 12 a modified permit condition from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Furthermore, because the Verification was likely issued in contravention of law, the Reinstatement (which necessarily depends on the validity of the Verification) is likely defective as well. Therefore, the court granted petitioners' motions for a stay of the Huntington District's Verification and the Norfolk District's Reinstatement until such time as the court may consider the petitions for review on their merits. However, the court concluded that petitioners are not likely to succeed on the merits of their challenges to the Army Corps' 2017 issuance of NWP 12 itself because the court likely lacks jurisdiction to entertain such challenges. View "Sierra Club v. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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This appeal involves the application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to a proposed master-planned community. In the published portion of this opinion, the Court of Appeal provided two alternate grounds for rejecting Developer's contention that the writ of mandate should have directed a partial decertification of the environmental impact report (EIR).First, the statutes require the public agency to certify "the completion of" the EIR. The court again rejected the statutory interpretation that allows for partial certification because an EIR is either completed in compliance with CEQA or it is not so completed. Second, even if CEQA is interpreted to allow for partial certification, it is inappropriate in this case because the CEQA violations affect the adoption of the statement of overriding considerations and, thus, taint the certification of the EIR as a whole. In other words, severance findings under Public Resources Code section 21168.9, subdivision (b) are not appropriate in the circumstances of this case. The court affirmed the judgment and directed the trial court to issue an amended writ of mandate. View "Sierra Club v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law

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Defendants, who at the time of trial were current or former California Coastal Commissioners (Commissioners), appealed a nearly $1 million judgment after the court found they violated statutes requiring disclosure of certain ex parte communications. The Court of Appeal surmised the case turned on whether: (1) plaintiff Spotlight on Coastal Corruption (Spotlight) had standing to pursue these claims under Public Resources Code sections 30324 and 30327; and (2) the up to $30,000 penalty for “any” violation of the Coastal Act in section 30820(a)(2) applied to such ex parte disclosure violations. Concluding that Spotlight lacked standing and that section 30820(a)(2) was inapplicable, the Court reversed with directions to enter judgment for Defendants. View "Spotlight on Coastal Corruption v. Kinsey" on Justia Law