Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Hall filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking records from the EPA related to the agency's purported adoption of a "nonacquiescence decision." The judgment at issue is that of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, 711 F.3d 844 (8th Cir. 2013). The DC Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to the EPA, holding that the date on which the EPA reached a final decision to not acquiesce remains a genuine issue of disputed material fact. In this case, the issue of whether the EPA settled on its nonacquiescence position at the time of that press statement on November 19, 2013, or in the days leading up to it, determines whether the documents regarding that nonacquiescence decision are predecisional and, as such, may qualify for withholding under the EPA's deliberative process privilege. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hall & Assoc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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When the EPA promulgated the emission standard for pulp mill combustion sources in 2001, EPA addressed some but not all the hazardous air pollutants they are known to emit. In 2017, EPA conducted its first section 112(d)(6) of the Clean Air Act review and revision of the 2001 standard, but decided only to review the standard's limits on emissions of the toxics the standard already controlled, leaving unlimited several other hazardous toxics that the sources are known to emit but that were left out of the 2001 Rule. Petitioners challenged the 2017 Rule's failure to correct the standard's acknowledged under-inclusiveness during the section 112(d)(6) review. The DC Circuit held that, because the Act necessitates section 112-compliant emission standards for each source category, and section 112(d)(6) requires EPA at least every eight years to review and revise emission standards "as necessary," EPA's section 112(d)(6) review of a source category's emission standard must address all listed air toxics the source category emits. Because the 2017 Rule failed to do this, the court granted the petition for review, remanding the rule without vacatur and directing the EPA to set limits on the listed air toxics that pulp mill combustion sources are known to emit but that EPA has yet to control. The court dismissed as moot the denial of the petition for reconsideration. View "Louisiana Environmental Action Network v. EPA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law
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After the EPA issued guidelines for two categories of solid waste incinerator over two years ago, the Administrator has not imposed a federal plan on noncompliant States. Sierra Club filed suit under the Clean Air Act's (CAA) citizen-suit provision seeking to compel the Administrator's action. The district court dismissed the claim based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The DC Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the CAA because the duty in question failed to qualify for section 304's conditional waiver of sovereign immunity. In the alternative, the court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), because the APA contains a carve-out that prevents a plaintiff from using its general sovereign immunity waiver to evade limitations contained in other statutes like the CAA. View "Sierra Club v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted the petitions for review of the EPA's 2018 Rule, which suspended the prior listing of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as unsafe substitutes in its entirety. Consequently, even current users of ozone-depleting substances can now shift to HFCs. As a preliminary matter, the court held that it had jurisdiction to consider the petitions for review, because NRDC, like New York, has established its standing to proceed. Furthermore, the 2018 Rule meets both prongs of the Bennett test for finality. On the merits, the court held that the 2018 Rule was a legislative rule and was thus improperly promulgated without the required notice-and-comment procedures. Accordingly, the court vacated the 2018 Rule, remanding to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit dismissed Sierra Club's petition for review of the EPA's "Guidance on Significant Impact Levels for Ozone and Fine Particles in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permitting Program" (SILs Guidance). The court held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act, because the SILs Guidance is not final agency action. The court explained that the SILs Guidance does not determine rights or obligations and does not effectuate direct or appreciable legal consequences as understood by the finality inquiry. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated actions, petitioners challenged the EPA's 2014 final rule, which exempted coal- and oil-burning power plant utility boilers' startup periods from numerical limits on hazardous air pollutants. EPA instead imposed qualitative "work practice" standards during these periods. The DC Circuit held that EPA erred in denying the petition for reconsideration and granted the petition in No. 16-1349 because it was impracticable for petitioners to raise their two objections during the notice-and-comment period and the objections were of central relevance to the final rule. Consequently, the court did not reach the merits of the arguments in No. 15-1015. View "Chesapeake Climate Action Network v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Since the 1940s, the U.S. Navy operated a landfill on the island of Guam, containing discarded munitions, chemicals, and everyday garbage. The Ordot Dump lacked any environmental safeguards. The EPA added Ordot to its National Priorities List in 1983, and, in 1988, designated the Navy as a potentially responsible party. The Navy no longer owned and operated Ordot—Guam did. The EPA ordered Guam to devise plans for containing and disposing of waste at the landfill and sued Guam in 2002 under the Clean Water Act. Guam and the EPA entered into a consent decree in 2004, which the district court approved; it required Guam to pay a civil penalty, close Ordot, and install a “dump cover system.” The Decree states that it is “binding upon the Government of Guam . . . and on the United States on behalf of U.S. EPA.” Cleanup continues; Guam closed Ordot in 2011. Guam sued the United States in 2017, seeking to recoup its closure and remediation costs, approximately $160,000,000. A suit against the Navy under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9613(f) “contribution provision” was time-barred; a suit under section 107 (42 U.S.C. 9607), the “cost-recovery” provision remained timely. The D.C. Circuit concluded that the 2004 consent decree triggered Guam’s right to pursue a section 113 contribution claim, precluding it from now pursuing a section 107 claim and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. View "Government of Guam v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law
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Commercial-fishing associations challenged the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was established by President Obama to protect distinct geological features and unique ecological resources in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The district court concluded that the President acted within his statutory authority in creating the Monument, dismissing the Fishermen's claims. The DC Circuit first drew a distinction between two types of claims: those justiciable on the face of the proclamation and those requiring factual development. The court determined that the Fishermens' first three claims could be judged on the face of the proclamation and resolved as a matter of law, and the last claim required factual allegations. As to the first three claims, the court held that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the Fishermens' contention that the Antiquities Act does not reach submerged lands; ocean-based monuments are compatible with the Sanctuaries Act; and the federal government's unrivaled authority under both international and domestic law established that it controls the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. Finally, the court held that the Fishermens' smallest-area claim failed, because the complaint contained no factual allegations identifying a portion of the Monument that lacks the natural resources and ecosystems the President sought to protect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The County and other parties filed a complaint in the district court claiming that DOT exceeded its authority under 26 U.S.C. 142(m)(1)(A) when it allocated $1.15 billion in Private Activity Bond (PABs) to fund Phase II of the AAF Project. The complaint also alleged that the allocation violated 26 U.S.C. 147(f), and challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the FRA under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the County's interest were within the zone of interests protected by section 142 and thus the complaint raised claims that were cognizable under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). However, the court held that DOT permissibly and reasonably determined that the Project qualified for tax-exempt PAB financing under section 142(m), and that the EIS for the Project did not violate NEPA. View "Indian River County v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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States, environmental groups, and industry representatives challenged the EPA's announcement that it would reconsider the appropriateness of, and conduct a rulemaking to potentially alter, greenhouse gas emission standards adopted in 2012 for model year 2022 to 2025 motor vehicles (Revised Determination). The DC Circuit dismissed the petitions for review based on lack of jurisdiction, holding that the EPA has not engaged in final action under the Clean Air Act. The court held that the Revised Determination was akin to an agency's grant of a petition for reconsideration of a rule. In this case, the Revised Determination neither determines rights or obligations or imposes any legal consequences, nor alters the baseline upon which any departure from the currently effective 2012 emission standards must be explained. View "California v. EPA" on Justia Law