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

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The Environmental Protection Agency registered a new pesticide without first determining, as required by the Endangered Species Act, whether it would have an adverse effect on endangered species. Then, five years ago, the DC Circuit Court ordered EPA to fulfill that statutory obligation. Notwithstanding Congress’s mandate and the court’s order, EPA has failed to make the required determination. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety sought the only legal relief left that would force the EPA to comply with the statute: a writ of mandamus.   The DC Circuit granted the writ. The court explained that the mandamus petition, in this case, arises from relatively unique circumstances that implicate two distinct sources of mandamus jurisdiction under the All Writs Act: the court’s power to compel unreasonably delayed agency activity and its power to require compliance with our previously issued orders. Further, weighing in favor mandamus is the potential threat cyantraniliprole poses to endangered species. Moreover, the court explained that whether EPA’s internal deadline demonstrates that it is acting in good faith is beside the point. The court need not find bad faith to find unreasonable delay. Thus, the court ordered the EPA to its previous order with an order consistent with the ESA by September 2023. EPA is directed to submit status updates every 60 days between now and September 2023. The court explained that should EPA fail to meet its September deadline, Petitioners are free to renew their motion for vacatur of cyantraniliprole’s registration order. View "In re: Center for Biological Diversity, et al." on Justia Law

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In 1997, EPA adopted stricter NAAQS for ozone. National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone. The agency later adopted an implementation rule that, among other things, construed the Act’s anti-backsliding provision to apply not only when EPA relaxes a NAAQS but also when it strengthens one. The EPA reasoned that if Congress desired to maintain existing controls when a NAAQS is relaxed, Congress also must have intended to maintain such controls when a NAAQS is strengthened. The D.C. Circuit previously sustained the EPA’s interpretation.The Sierra Club challenged the EPA’s decisions to lift antibacksliding requirements in Houston and Dallas. The EPA responded that the proper and exclusive venue for the Sierra Club’s challenge is the Fifth Circuit. Thus, the D.C. Circuit transferred the case to the Fifth Circuit. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission approved a request by Space Exploration Holdings, LLC to fly its satellites at a lower altitude.The D.C. Circuit rejected the merits of a competitor's claim that the FCC did not adequately consider the risk of signal interference. The D.C. Circuit also declined to review a claim brought by another competitor and an environmental group because the competitor's asserted injury did not fall within the zone of interests protected by the NEPA and the environmental group lacked standing. View "Viasat, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency established federal standards for coal ash disposal facilities. Under the governing statute, a state, instead of submitting to federal oversight of coal ash facilities within its borders, can develop its own permitting program and seek EPA’s approval of the state program as consistent with federal standards. Oklahoma chose that path and obtained EPA’s approval of its permitting program. Plaintiffs, a trio of environmental groups, then brought this action contesting EPA’s approval. They challenged the adequacy of Oklahoma’s permitting program on several grounds. The district court granted summary judgment to EPA on most of the claims, and Plaintiffs appealed.   The DC Circuit did not reach the merits because the court concluded that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring them. Thus, the court vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to EPA and remanded for dismissal of the relevant claims. The court explained that Plaintiffs failed to show why compelling EPA to publish guidelines for public participation in state permitting programs would redress alleged injuries to their members from deficiencies in Oklahoma’s program. Thus they lack standing to bring the citizen-suit claim.   Further, the court wrote that Plaintiffs have made no effort to demonstrate, for instance, likely satisfaction of the condition that there be “appropriations specifically provided in appropriations Act to carry out a [federal permitting] program in a nonparticipating state.” Moreover, the court explained that Plaintiffs failed to establish their standing to bring that claim because they fail to demonstrate imminent injury in connection with it. View "Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. Michael Regan" on Justia Law

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To determine whether to list a given site, the EPA primarily uses the Hazard Ranking System (“HRS”), a set of comprehensive scoring points for evaluating the potential damage from hazardous waste releases. After performing an HRS analysis of a site of groundwater contamination southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the EPA determined that the HRS site score exceeded the required threshold for NPL listing.   Petitioners Daikin Applied Americas Inc. and Super Radiator Coils LP, former owners of a metal fabricating facility that is a possible source of the contaminants, challenged the listing as arbitrary and capricious and unsupported by substantial evidence. Petitioners contended that the EPA arbitrarily ignored other possible sources of contamination in determining the site and that the EPA both ignored evidence disproving, and failed to provide adequate evidence of, aquifer interconnectivity.   Petitioners argued that the EPA did not adequately establish observed releases. In particular, they contend that the EPA’s chemical analysis was flawed. The DC Circuit rejected the Petitioners’ claims and denied the petition for review. The Court held that the EPA was not required to attribute the contamination to a specific source and adequately supported aquifer interconnectivity. The court wrote that Petitioners misread the chart listing the wells and the hazardous substances exceeding the release threshold. Second, the EPA did not arbitrarily select well data. Further, the EPA correctly noted that “at this stage of the listing, groundwater modeling, 3D or otherwise, to predict migration pathways [is] not required as part of an HRS evaluation." View "Daikin Applied Americas Inc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, all environmental organizations, sought to vacate the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission’s (“FERC” or the “Commission”) order giving the green light to Mountain Valley, LLC to construct a new pipeline. That pipeline, the “Southgate Project,” would extend Mountain Valley’s Mainline System Project, connecting its terminus in Virginia to facilities in North Carolina. Its “newness,” as an extension of the nonoperational Mainline System Project, is one of the prime subjects of dispute.   Petitioners also requested that the DC Circuit vacate the Commission’s denial of rehearing. Petitioners challenged the Commission’s Certificate Order and its denial of rehearing as arbitrary and capricious on two bases: the approved return on equity rate and the adequacy of the Commission’s Environmental Impact Statement.     The DC Circuit denied the petition finding that the Commission’s decisions on both scores were reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. The court wrote that Petitioners’ fear that the return on equity presents a market-skewing incentive is misplaced. The long-term agreement shows an actual need for the Project, not an attempt to overbuild purely for profit.   Further, Petitioners do not marshal compelling evidence to counter the Commission’s cumulative impacts analysis. The City of Roanoke briefing lists downstream sediment as a concern of the Mountain Valley pipeline but does not present any statistical evidence contradicting FERC’s conclusions. Further, the research Petitioners presented in their rehearing request, allegedly demonstrating that fine sediment can travel hundreds of miles and therefore will accumulate between the two Projects, is taken from an environmental product company’s website. These sources thus do not call into question the Commission’s analysis. View "Sierra Club v. FERC" on Justia Law