Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Montana Water Court establishing the point of diversion for two claims owned by Carolyn Mack and Chriss Mack, holding that the Water Court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court (1) did not err when it concluded that it had jurisdiction over the Macks' amended statement of claim; (2) did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the Macks did not make any judicial admissions in previous litigation; (3) did not err in assigning the burden of proof to Appellants - Glenda, Jimmy, John, and Rowdy Anderson; and (4) did not abuse its discretion in excluding the Andersons' expert witness. Lastly, the Supreme Court held that the Water Court's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous and that there was substantial evidence supporting the Water Court's conclusion establishing the point of diversion for the Macks' claims. View "Mack v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) appealed an order of the New Hampshire Waste Management Council (Council) denying CLF’s appeal of a permit, issued by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES), which authorized the expansion of a landfill owned by respondent Waste Management of New Hampshire, Inc. (WMNH). CLF argued the Council erred in: (1) determining DES acted reasonably in granting the permit despite finding that a condition therein was ambiguous; and (2) premising its decision on the occurrence of future negotiations between DES and WMNH to resolve the ambiguity. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed, finding the permit’s ambiguities did not render the Council’s decision unlawful. View "Appeal of Conservation Law Foundation" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, petitioners challenge four provisions of the EPA's 2015 and 2018 rules implementing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone. Petitioners challenge four features of the 2018 Rule: (1) the interprecursor trading program, as well as provisions (2) allowing states to demonstrate compliance with the Act’s reasonable further progress milestone requirements through an implementation-based method, (3) allowing states to choose between two options for the reasonable further progress baseline year, and (4) allowing nonattainment areas to use already-implemented measures to satisfy the Act's contingency measures requirements.The DC Circuit vacated two provisions—the interprecursor trading program and the interpretation of the Clean Air Act's contingency measures requirements—because they contravene the statute's unambiguous language. The court vacated another provision—the implementation of the milestone compliance demonstration requirement—because it rests on an unreasonable interpretation of the statute. Finally, the court denied the petition for review with respect to the alternative baseline years provision. Therefore, the court granted in part and denied in part the petitions for review. View "Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a permit issued by state and local water control boards that required 86 Southern California municipalities to reduce or prevent pollutants discharged through storm sewer systems by meeting numeric effluent limitations. The trial court found that, because the permit obligated the municipalities to meet more stringent standards than required by federal law, the water boards had to consider the factors identified in California Water Code section 13421, including but not limited to economic considerations, before issuing the permit. The trial court also found that the water boards had not sufficiently considered the section 13241 factors, and invalidated the portions of the permit that imposed the numeric effluent limitations. As to those factors, the Court of Appeal held that, under the applicable standard of review, and giving appropriate consideration to the state and local water boards’ expertise and discretion in the interpretation of the statute, the permit’s numeric effluent limitations had to be upheld. The Court published its opinion because it believed it was important to provide an example of the level of consideration of the factors that was sufficient - especially the economic considerations factor that was not defined by section 13241. The Court's analysis of the issues under consideration by the water boards lead it to conclude their consideration of the relevant factors was sufficient. View "City of Duarte v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act (EPA) by issuing an easement allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to transport crude oil through federally owned land at the Lake Oahe crossing site without preparing an environmental impact statement despite substantial criticisms from the Tribes.The court rejected the Corps' and Dakota Access' contention that the district court applied the wrong standard by relying on National Parks Conservation Association v. Semonite, 916 F.3d at 1083, which emphasized the important role played by entities other than the federal government. The court explained that the Tribes' unique role and their government-to-government relationship with the United States demand that their criticisms be treated with appropriate solicitude. The court concluded that several serious scientific disputes in this case means that the effects of the Corps' easement decision are likely to be "highly controversial." The court also noted that, although the risk of a pipeline leak may be low, that risk is sufficient that a person of ordinary prudence would take it into account in reaching a decision to approve the pipeline's placement, and its potential consequences are therefore properly considered. The court affirmed the district court's order vacating the easement while the Corps prepares an environmental impact statement. However, the court reversed the district court's order to the extent it directed that the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil. View "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two environmental organizations, filed a citizens' civil action against administrators and board members of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to enforce the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. 2601–2629. Plaintiffs sought remediation of several school buildings containing dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).On appeal, plaintiffs challenge the district court's sanctions order and its dismissal of one of the plaintiffs for lack of standing, and the district court's decision in December 2018 partially modifying the 2016 permanent injunction. Plaintiffs also ask to take judicial notice of a document dated September 11, 2019, which plaintiffs did not present to the district court.The Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court's sanctions order in light of the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Goodyear Tire & Robber Co. v. Haeger, 137 S. Ct. 1178 (2017), which clarified the procedural requirements and substantive limitations that apply when a district court imposes sanctions under its inherent authority, rather than pursuant to any statute or rule. The panel also reversed the district court's dismissal of one plaintiff for lack of standing. The panel affirmed in part the district court's 2018 amended judgment and permanent injunction (except for the sanctions order, which is vacated and remanded). Finally, the panel denied plaintiffs' request for judicial notice. View "America Unites for Kids v. Rousseau" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule), 84 Fed. Reg. 32,520, repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The Clean Power Plan was an Obama-era standard that set the first limits for climate change pollution from existing power plants. The EPA considered its authority under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, 7411 to be confined to physical changes to the power plants themselves. The ACE Rule determined a new system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants only and left unaddressed greenhouse gas emissions from other types of fossil-fuel-fired power plants, such as those fired by natural gas or oil. Several groups challenged the action.The D.C. Circuit vacated the ACE Rule, which expressly rests on the incorrect conclusion that the plain statutory text foreclosed the Clean Power Plan so that complete repeal was “the only permissible interpretation of the scope of the EPA’s authority” under section 7411. The error prevented full consideration of the statutory question and of measures other than those that apply at and to the individual source. The ACE Rule’s amendment of the regulatory framework to slow the process for the reduction of emissions is arbitrary and capricious. View "American Lung Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Since 2011, Jonesboro’s wastewater system has spewed sewage onto Stringer’s property and into her home during heavy rains. Stringer repeatedly complained to the town and its mayor, then brought a “citizen suit” under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365, with constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for the uncompensated taking of her property and the mayor’s retaliation. Stringer ran against the mayor in 2014 and claims he retaliated by ignoring her pleas, getting the town to sue her frivolously, and refusing to provide sandbags. The Louisiana Departments of Health (LDOH) and Environmental Quality (LDEQ) have long known about the problems. LDEQ sent the town warning letters and issued compliance orders about unauthorized discharges, including those afflicting Stringer. LDOH issued a compliance order about the discharges on Stringer’s property, imposed mandatory ameliorative measures, and assessed a daily fine. The district court dismissed, finding that the CWA prohibits such suits when a state is addressing the problem through “comparable” state law and finding her section 1983 claims untimely under Louisiana’s one-year prescriptive period. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as to the section 1983 claims. Stringer was long aware of the underlying facts and failed to sue within a year. The Fifth Circuit reversed in part. The enforcement action to which the court pointed—the state health department’s enforcement of the sanitary code—is not “comparable” to the CWA under circuit precedent. View "Stringer v. Town of Jonesboro" on Justia Law

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In 2007, GM sold a power plant to DTEPN, which leased the land under the plant for 10 years. DTEPN agreed to sell utilities produced at the plant to GM, to maintain the plant according to specific criteria, and to address any environmental issues. DTEPN’s parent company, Energy, guaranteed DTEPN’s utility, environmental, and maintenance obligations. Two years later, GM filed for bankruptcy. GM and DTEPN agreed to GM’s rejection of the contracts. DTEPN exercised its right to continue occupying the property. An environmental trust (RACER) assumed ownership of some GM industrial property, including the DTEPN land. DTEPN remained in possession until the lease expired. RACER then discovered that DTEPN had allowed the power plant to fall into disrepair and contaminate the property.The district court dismissed the claims against Energy, reasoning that RACER’s allegations did not support piercing the corporate veil and Energy’s guaranty terminated after GM rejected the contracts in bankruptcy.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Michigan courts have held that a breach of contract can justify piercing a corporate veil if the corporate form has been abused. By allegedly directing its wholly-owned subsidiary to stop maintaining the property, Energy exercised control over DTEPN in a way that wronged RACER. DTEPN is now judgment-proof because it was not adequately capitalized by Energy. RACER would suffer an unjust loss if the corporate veil is not pierced. Rejection in bankruptcy does not terminate the contract; the contract is considered breached, 11 U.S.C. 365(g). The utility services agreement and the lease are not severable from each other. Energy guaranteed DTEPN’s obligations under the utility agreement concerning maintenance, environmental costs, and remediation, so Energy’s guaranty is joined to DTEPN’s section 365(h) election. View "EPLET, LLC v. DTE Pontiac North, LLC" on Justia Law

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At the heart of this case was governmental jurisdiction over one percent of state- and privately owned land within the Grand Teton National Park’s exterior boundaries - collectively called “inholdings.” In consolidated appeals, the Tenth Circuit was tasked with resolving administrative challenges to two actions taken by Defendant-Appellee National Park Service (“NPS”) regarding the management of wildlife on the Park’s inholdings. Appellants challenged NPS’s 2014 determination that 36 C.F.R. 2.2 - a wildlife regulation that prohibited hunting in national parks - did not apply to the Park’s inholdings, based on what NPS had concluded was its lack of jurisdiction over wildlife management on those lands. The Appellants contended the NPS did possess such jurisdiction, and that its determination otherwise was contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). The second agency action was challenged only by appellant Conservation Association, concerning the Joint Elk Reduction Program - a plan under the joint auspices of NPS and the State of Wyoming, aimed at controlling the Park's elk-herd population. The district court rejected both challenges to the two NPS actions, finding as an initial matter, that Appellants possessed standing to challenge both actions, but they failed to show that either of the contested actions was contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious, and therefore affirmed NPS’s actions in full. After review, the Tenth Circuit held: (1) NPS’s determination that 36 C.F.R. 2.2 did not apply to Park inholdings was not contrary to law or arbitrary and capricious; and (2) the Conservation Association lacked standing to challenge NPS’s approval of the 2015 Elk Reduction Program. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court with respect to NPS’s section 2.2 determination. Furthermore, the Court dismissed the portion of the appeal pertaining to NPS’s approval of the 2015 Elk Reduction Program, and remanded with instructions to the district court to vacate that portion of the judgment, and dismiss the Conservation Association’s claim thereof without prejudice. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Dept. of Interior" on Justia Law