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

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Appellants brought an action contesting a Department of Agriculture rulemaking in the district court. Appellants argued that the rule violated both the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees.   Appellants contested four aspects of the Final Rule: (1) that collection of a reserve surcharge violates the FACT Act; (2) that the Final Rule violates the FACT Act’s prohibition on cross-subsidization; (3) that the Final Rule violates the FACT Act and the APA by charging both a per-passenger and a per aircraft fee; and (4) that APHIS violated the APA by withholding certain information during the rulemaking process.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in part, reversed it insofar as the challenged rule authorizes collecting fees to fund a reserve after 2002. The court explained that Congress has directly addressed the question of whether APHIS may continue to collect fees to fund a reserve after fiscal year 2002. They may not do so. Thus, the court remanded this case to the district court for vacating insofar as the Final Rule authorizes collecting fees to maintain a reserve account.  Further, the court wrote that all of Appellants’ arguments regarding the dual application of the Commercial Aircraft User Fee and the Commercial Air Passenger Fee fail. Moreover, Appellants’ argument that fees collected from multiple user classes cannot be comingled in a fund that pays for the inspections of fee-paying user classes fails because the FACT Act does not prohibit this form of cross-subsidization. View "Air Transport Association v. AGRI" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission  (“FERC”) gave Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC permission to build a natural-gas pipeline that will run through Appellants’ property. Appellants sued in district court to prevent the pipeline’s construction. The district court dismissed their suit because the Natural Gas Act’s  (“NGA”) exclusive review process precluded its jurisdiction.   The DC Circuit affirmed concluding that the NGA creates an exclusive review scheme for challenges to pipeline certificates, one that doesn’t allow for the Appellants’ district court filing. The court wrote that when, as here, Congress creates an exclusive review scheme, it precludes any other court’s jurisdiction over challenges that fit within that scheme. Therefore, Appellants may file their suit in district court only if their facial nondelegation challenge falls outside the NGA’s judicial-review scheme. The court explained that the mere fact that Appellants press constitutional claims (even facial ones) therefore does not control the preclusion inquiry. Further, the mere fact that Appellants are challenging FERC’s structure does not take their suit outside the NGA’s review provision. View "Cletus Bohon v. FERC" on Justia Law

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An applicant for a federal license to operate a hydroelectric facility must seek a State certification that the facility’s discharges will comply with the water quality standards specified in federal law. The State may grant the applicant’s request outright, or it may grant the request subject to conditions relating to water quality, or it may deny the request, or it may fail to act.The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) decides whether to license hydroelectric projects subject to federal jurisdiction. Two hydroelectric facilities (“Districts”) filed certification requests for both projects with the California State Water Resources Control Board. The Districts object to the conditions that the California Board imposed in granting their requests for certification. FERC denied the Districts’ petition for a declaratory orderThe DC Circuit denied the petitions for judicial review. The court found that because section 401 requires only action within a year to avoid waiver, FERC also rejected the Districts’ argument that the California Board’s denials were “invalid” as a matter of federal law because they were “on non-substantive grounds” and not “on the technical merits of the certification requests.” The court wrote that it agreed with FERC that the California Board did not waive its certification authority under section 401(a)(1) and that FERC’s ruling is not contrary to Hoopa Valley. The court explained that unlike in Hoopa Valley, here the Districts’ requests were not complete and they were not ready for review. The Board’s denials were “without prejudice,” but those rulings still had the legal effect under section 401 of precluding FERC from issuing licenses to the Districts. View "Turlock Irrigation District v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Power Act (“FPA”), 16 U.S.C. Section 824d(d), ISO-NE filed tariff revisions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) to compensate generators for maintaining an inventory of energy during the winter months of 2023–24 and 2024–25. The revisions implemented the Inventoried Energy Program (“IEP”), under which ISO-NE will provide additional payments to generators to maintain up to three days’ worth of fuel on-site and convert it into electricity.  The Commission issued an order accepting ISO-NE’s proposed tariff revisions. Petitioners contended that FERC’s decision to approve IEP imposes unjust and unreasonable, discriminatory, and preferential rates.   The DC Circuit upheld all but one component of the Commission’s decision to approve ISO-NE’s proposed tariff revisions implementing the Inventoried Energy Program. The court left in intact the Commission’s June 2020 order except for the portion of IEP that is arbitrary and capricious: the agency’s inclusion of nuclear, biomass, coal, hydroelectric generators. The court wrote that it believes there is no substantial doubt that FERC would have adopted IEP if it had not included these resources in the first place, and IEP can function sensibly without them. View "Belmont Municipal Light Department v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) vests the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission “) with broad authority to regulate the transportation and sale of natural gas. The case at issue concerns the Commission’s application of its pipeline requirement to a liquified natural gas (“LNG “) handling facility in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The facility, constructed and operated by New Fortress Energy LLC (“NFE”) receives LNG from a floating storage unit moored at San Juan Harbor which, in turn, receives LNG from shuttle vessels that deliver LNG imports from ocean-going, bulk-carrier tankers.   While constructing the facility, New Fortress received “informal advice” from Commission staff suggesting the Commission would not assert jurisdiction. Shortly after the facility began operating, the Commission issued an order to show cause why the facility is not subject to Commission jurisdiction as an LNG terminal operating in foreign commerce. In response, NFE argued among other things that the 75-foot pipe is not a “pipeline,” but the Commission disagreed, finding the facility “connected to a pipeline” because the pipe “sends out gas” to San Juan Power Plant.   The DC Circuit denied NFE’s petition seeking review of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s application of its pipeline requirement. The court explained that the physical characteristics of piping are merely a function of the volume of LNG to be imported or exported and the relative distance between the LNG terminal and the ultimate end-user. The Commission also pointed out that it “has never considered” a pipeline’s physical characteristics when determining whether a facility is an LNG import or export terminal. View "New Fortress Energy Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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In this claim brought by an organization dedicated to ocean preservation against the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the DC Circuit affirmed the judgment of the trial court in favor of the government defendants. In doing so, the court rejected both of the organization's claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to provide sufficient protection for the dusky shark.The court held that the National Marine Fisheries Service did not violate the Magnuson-Stevens Act by failing to actually limit bycatch of the overfished dusky shark or hold fisheries accountable to any level of dusky shark bycatch. Nor did the national Marine Fisheries Service violate the Magnuson-Stevens Act by failing to establish a reasonable likelihood that training measures, communication protocols, and minor gear changes would reduce dusky shark bycatch by 35 percent, which is the minimum reduction needed to meet the statutory requirement to rebuild the dusky shark population. View "Oceana, Inc. v. Gina Raimondo" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the Commission's decision to authorize a new natural gas pipeline and compressor station in Agawam, Massachusetts. One of the petitioners, Berkshire, has failed to establish standing to challenge the Commission's decision. The other petitioner, Food & Water Watch, has raised challenges related to the Commission's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.The DC Circuit mainly rejected Food & Water Watch's claims, but agreed with its contention that the Commission's environmental assessment failed to account for the reasonably foreseeable indirect effects of the project—specifically, the greenhouse-gas emissions attributable to burning the gas to be carried in the pipeline. Accordingly, the court granted Food & Water Watch's petition for review on that basis and remanded for preparation of a conforming environmental assessment. View "Food & Water Watch v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule for trailers pulled by tractors based on a statute enabling the EPA to regulate “motor vehicles.” In that same rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued fuel efficiency standards for trailers based on a statute enabling NHTSA to regulate “commercial medium-duty or heavy-duty on-highway vehicles.” The “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.” 81 Fed. Reg. 73,478, requires trailer manufacturers to adopt some combination of fuel-saving technologies, such as side skirts and automatic tire pressure systems. Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association sought review.The D.C. Circuit vacated all portions of the rule that pertain to trailers. Trailers have no motor and art not “motor vehicles.” Nor are they “vehicles” when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy since motorless vehicles use no fuel. View "Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Wood smoke produced by home heaters can produce grave health consequences. To account for differences between residential and industrial or commercial sources, and in recognition that residential wood heater manufacturers are often small businesses, EPA regulates wood heaters’ emissions under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7411(b)(1)(A) through a certification program. Instead of requiring the testing of every heater, the program allows manufacturers to obtain certification to sell an entire model line based on satisfactory emissions testing of a single representative heater. EPA accepts test results from private, EPA-approved laboratories hired by the manufacturers. EPA may randomly select heaters from certified model lines for audit testing. Under its 1988 Rule, EPA called on the same laboratory that had done the certification testing for audit testing. The 1988 Rule referred to “restricting where and how audit testing could occur, at least until EPA studied and better understood interlaboratory variability.”The D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to the portion of the EPA 2015 rule updating those audit standards. When EPA proposed the current Rule, it explained the evolution of its understanding of test variability. It described how, based on analyses of testing proficiency data and improved testing methods developed since 1988, concerns about interlaboratory audit testing as a distinct source of variability were shown to have been overstated. It refined the audit procedures to address identified causes of variability. EPA acknowledged and adequately explained the changes and substantial evidence supports those changes. View "Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The FCC regulates facilities and devices that transmit radio waves and microwaves, including cell phones and facilities for radio, TV, and cell phone communications, 47 U.S.C. 302a(a). Radio waves and microwaves are electromagnetic energy, “radiofrequency” that move through space, as “RF radiation.” RF radiation at sufficiently high levels can heat human body tissue, resulting in “thermal” effects. Exposure to lower levels of RF radiation might also cause other biological effects.The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to account for the environmental effects of their proposed actions; a “major Federal action” requires an environmental impact statement, 42 U.S.C. 4332(C). If it is unclear whether a proposed action will “significantly affect[] the quality of the human environment,” the agency may prepare a limited environmental assessment. An agency may also use “categorical exclusions.” Pursuant to NEPA, the FCC has guidelines for human exposure to RF radiation, last updated in 1996. In 2013, the FCC issued a notice of inquiry regarding the adequacy of its guidelines and sought comments on five issues in response to changes in the ubiquity of wireless devices and in scientific standards and research. In 2019, the FCC issued a final order, declining to undertake any of the changes contemplated in the notice of inquiry.The D.C. Circuit remanded. The FCC failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against the harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer. View "Environmental Health Trust v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law