Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries
Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al.
In 2018, Garfield County, Utah sought to chip-seal a 7.5-mile portion of the Burr Trail known as the Stratton Segment. Before the County could begin its chip-sealing project, it was legally required to consult with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) about the project’s scope and impact and obtain BLM’s approval. After doing so, Garfield County completed the project. Soon after Garfield County chip-sealed the Stratton Segment, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other conservation groups sued BLM and the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”). Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), SUWA alleged that BLM had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when approving the chip-sealing project. The district court disagreed and dismissed SUWA’s claims. SUWA raised the same issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit held that BLM didn’t act arbitrarily and capriciously in informally determining that Garfield County had an R.S. 2477 right-of-way over the Stratton Segment. After reviewing the record, the Court disagreed with SUWA that BLM “purported to” rely on IM 2008-175 in its R.S. 2477 determination. "Instead, BLM properly relied on its authority under our caselaw to informally determine, for BLM’s own purposes, that Garfield County holds its asserted R.S. 2477 right-of-way. Thus, BLM’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." View "Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law
Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al.
A nonprofit entity representing commercial fishers sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game, alleging that the State’s fishery management practices in Cook Inlet were unjustified and violated federal law and national standards. The nonprofit sought to depose two current Fish and Game employees but the State opposed, arguing that all material facts necessary for a decision of the case were in the administrative record. The superior court agreed with the State and quashed the nonprofit’s deposition notices. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the State, deciding that the Cook Inlet fishery was not governed by federal standards and that none of the nonprofit’s disagreements with the State’s fishery management practices stated a violation of statute or regulation. The nonprofit appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al." on Justia Law
Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc v. Gina Raimondo
In implementing an Omnibus Amendment that establishes industry-funded monitoring programs in New England fishery management plans, the National Marine Fisheries Service (Service) promulgated a rule that required industry to fund at-sea monitoring programs. A group of commercial herring fishing companies contend that the statute does not specify that industry may be required to bear such costs and that the process by which the Service approved the Omnibus Amendment and promulgated the Final Rule was improper.On appeal, Appellants’ challenge to the Final Rule presents the question how clearly Congress must state an agency’s authority to adopt a course of action. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Service based on its reasonable interpretation of its authority and its adoption of the Amendment and the Rule through a process that afforded the requisite notice and opportunity to comment. The court explained that when an agency establishes regulatory requirements, regulated parties generally bear the costs of complying with them.Here, the Act’s national standards for fishery management plans direct the Service to “minimize costs” of conservation and management measures and to minimize adverse economic impacts” of such measures on fishing communities. Those statutory admonitions to reduce costs seem to presume that the Service may impose some costs, as “minimize” does not mean eliminate entirely. View "Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc v. Gina Raimondo" on Justia Law
Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. EPA
Chevron U.S.A. Inc. intends to decommission two oil platforms located off the coast of California. The activity of those platforms is generally subject to the Clean Air Act. Chevron asked the Environmental Protection Agency for guidance on whether, as the process of decommissioning the two oil platforms moves forward, the platforms will cease to qualify as regulated sources under the Clean Air Act. EPA responded in a letter to Chevron. Unsatisfied with the views set out in EPA’s letter, Chevron now seeks judicial review of EPA’s response.The DC Circuit dismissed Chevron’s petition for review. The court wrote that it does not reach the merits of Chevron’s petition for review. In the circumstances of this case, the Clean Air Act’s venue provision allows for judicial review in this court only if EPA’s challenged action is “nationally applicable,” as opposed to “locally or regionally applicable.” 42 U.S.C. Section 7607(b)(1). The court concluded that EPA’s response letter is locally or regionally applicable, and that venue over Chevron’s challenge lies exclusively in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. View "Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. EPA" on Justia Law
Racing Enthusiasts and Suppliers Coalition v. EPA
Many amateur racers have believed that the Clean Air Act permits them to modify the emissions systems of ordinary cars they convert into race cars. According to them, the converted cars are no longer designed for highway use and thus are not “motor vehicles.” But in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule with language to the contrary. Further, under the new definition, even if an individual removes certain safety features from a motor vehicle, it remains a motor vehicle unless the “absence of [those safety features] would prevent operation on highways. Petitioner, The Racing Enthusiasts and Suppliers Coalition, petition for review of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that Petitioners’ claim curtailed the practices of amateur racers and the businesses that make and sell them car parts. The DC Circuit dismissed the petition for review finding that the court does not have jurisdiction because Petitioner lacks standing for most of its claims and because the remaining claim does not challenge a final agency action. The court explained that the Coalition lacks standing to challenge the EPA’s seven cosmetic amendments regarding the competition exemption for nonroad engines and equipment like snowmobiles and tractors. Further, the court held that the Coalition also has not shown that it has standing to challenge the EPA’s update to the regulatory definition of "motor vehicle". Moreover, the court explained that the Coalition has not met its burden to show that its member was injured by the EPA’s updated regulatory definition of "motor vehicle." View "Racing Enthusiasts and Suppliers Coalition v. EPA" on Justia Law
In re Application of Icebreaker Windpower, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Ohio Power Siting Board to approve the application of Icebreaker Windpower, Inc. for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to build a six-turbine wind-powered electric-generation facility in Lake Erie, holding that Appellants did not meet their burden of demonstrating that the Board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) there was sufficient evidence in the record before the Board for it to determine the nature of the probable environmental impact of the project under Ohio Rev. Code 4906.10(A)(2) and whether the project represented the minimum adverse environmental impact under Ohio Rev. Code 4906.10(A)(3); and (2) the Board did not err in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the residents' public-trust argument. View "In re Application of Icebreaker Windpower, Inc." on Justia Law
Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC
The Oglala Sioux Tribe and its nonprofit association Aligning for Responsible Mining seek a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant Powertech (USA), Inc., a source material license to extract uranium from ore beds in South Dakota. The Tribe maintains that the Commission failed to meet its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The DC Circuit denied the Tribe’s petition because the Commission adequately complied with the relevant statutory and regulatory requirements. The court explained that the Tribe failed to demonstrate any NEPA deficiencies that require setting aside the Commission’s decisions. First, the Tribe argues the agency did not adequately consult with the Tribe. The Tribe’s refusal to participate in the 2013 Survey and its challenges to the opportunity the Tribe was, in fact, afforded. The Commission satisfied its consultation obligations under the NHPA. Second, the Tribe maintains the agency impermissibly failed to survey the Dewey-Burdock area for the Tribe’s historic properties. NHPA regulations permit an agency to conduct a survey as part of its efforts to identify historic properties, but agencies are free to use a survey or some other method to gather information. Finally, the Tribe suggests the agency impermissibly postponed identifying historic properties until after Powertech had begun operations. NHPA regulations, however, expressly contemplate this approach. View "Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC" on Justia Law
United States v. Daikin Applied Americas
For nearly forty years, there has been ongoing efforts to environmentally remediate the Reilly Tar & Chemical Corporation site in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. In 2019, the site’s original consent decree and remedial action plan were amended in a fashion that some neighboring parties oppose. At issue is whether the neighboring parties may intervene to oppose the amended consent decree.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that neighboring parties may not intervene because the neighboring parties lack Article III standing. The court explained that even assuming the Proposed Intervenors show a concrete injury by having to spend money to remediate their property, there are causality issues that preclude Article III standing. The Proposed Intervenors’ contention that the 2019 Consent Decree will increase the migration of CVOC contaminants from the Reilly Tar Site to their own property is based on two unfounded assumptions: (1) it presumes that the CVOC contaminants were subject to remediation by the 1986 Consent Decree, and (2) the 2019 Consent Decree significantly changes CVOC remediation at the Reilly Tar Site.Given this assurance and the conclusion that the 2019 Consent Decree does not alter Reilly Tar’s CVOC remediation obligations, the Proposed Intervenors have not shown a traceable or redressable injury, which are requirements for Article III standing. Because the Proposed Intervenors lack standing, the court has no authority to analyze their remaining claims. View "United States v. Daikin Applied Americas" on Justia Law
Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC for a permit to construct a wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC acted within its discretion in this case.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) neither of the Intervenors' evidentiary claims were sustainable; and (2) even if the Intervenors' claims were preserved for appeal, the PUC acted within its discretion when it denied the Intervenors' challenges to certain testimony. View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law
Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind II, LLC to construct a large wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC followed the applicable statutory directives in granting the construction permit and properly determined that Crowned Ridge satisfied its burden of proof under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PUC did not err when it determined that Crowned Ridge met its burden of proof to comply with all applicable laws and rules; and (2) the PUC's findings were not clearly erroneous as they related to crowned Ridge's burden under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22(3). View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law