Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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PRP Group, an association cooperating with the EPA to pay costs associated with cleanup of a superfund site in Pasadena, Texas, filed suit against 1200 parties they believed should be responsible for part of the environmental remediation costs. PRP Group filed claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), and its state law counterpart, the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (TSWDA). The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying the state agency and university defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the agencies and universities were entitled to state sovereign immunity. Therefore, the district court erred when it concluded that state sovereign immunity did not bar PRP Group's CERCLA claims. The court likewise reversed as to PRP's state law claims. View "US Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group v. Railroad Commission of Texas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision holding that Texas complied with the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) in planning for three highway projects in Austin. The court held that TxDot complied with NEPA by studying the three highway projects as separate projects, instead of as a single project, to determine their environmental impacts. The court also held that, given the overpass project's limited scope and location over busy urban intersections, it was not arbitrary and capricious for TxDot to limit its cumulative impact analysis where the record supported its finding that the project would have no significant direct or indirect impact. View "Fath v. Texas Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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The Corps and Bayou Bridge appealed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction preventing Bayou Bridge from constructing a pipeline in part through the Atchafalaya Basin of southern Louisiana. The Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction, holding that the district court misperceived the applicable regulations, and the Corps' analysis, properly understood, vindicated its decision that an environmental assessment sufficed under these circumstances. In this case, the environmental assessments concerning the permit did not exhibit the Supreme Court's criteria for an arbitrary and capricious decision. Furthermore, the district court abused its discretion by misapplying applicable legal principles and by inadvertently but critically overlooking the Louisiana Wetland Rapid Assessment Method. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Atchafalaya Basinkeeper v. U.S. Army Corps" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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Front Street filed a citizen suit under the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7604, to enjoin Mississippi Silicon from constructing a silicon plant. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claim against Mississippi Silicon where section 7604(a)(3) did not authorize suits against facilities that have either obtained a permit or were in the process of doing so, and thus it did not apply here. The court held, however, that the district court should not have dismissed the claims against MDEQ based on the time-of-filing rule. In this case, Front Street has cited no decision in which the Supreme Court or a Circuit Court has held that the time-of-filing rule applies to facts like those in the present case. The court rejected Mississippi Silicon's argument that Front Street lacked standing to appeal their claim against MDEQ. Finally, the court denied Mississippi Silicon's motion for attorneys' fees. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "16 Front Street, LLC v. Mississippi Silicon, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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ExxonMobil’s 859-mile long Pegasus Pipeline transports crude oil from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas. In March 2013, it ruptured, spilling several thousand barrels of oil near Mayflower, Arkansas. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, within the U.S. Department of Transportation, conducted an investigation and concluded that ExxonMobil violated several pipeline safety regulations under the Pipeline Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 60101. Specifically, the agency found that the integrity management program (IMP) plan had not properly accounted for the risk of longitudinal seam failure and that this was a contributing factor in the Mayflower release. The agency assessed a $2.6 million civil penalty and ordered ExxonMobil to take certain actions to ensure compliance with those regulations. The Fifth Circuit vacated certain items in the order. Finding that it owed no deference to the agency’s interpretation of the regulation, the court concluded that ExxonMobil reasonably applied 49 CFR 195.452(e)(1)’s instruction to “consider” all relevant risk factors in making its pipeline susceptibility determination. The court remanded with an instruction to reevaluate the basis for the penalty associated with another violation. View "ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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CCA filed suit challenging Amendment 40 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan and the Final Rule implementing that amendment. Amendment 40 was proposed as a means to address problems that had arisen with the red snapper fishery, and the Final Rule contains measures to establish two components within the recreational sector for Gulf of Mexico red snapper: a federal charter component and a private angling component. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants and intervenors. The court concluded that Amendment 40 does not create a separate quota for charter fishing. Rather, Amendment 40 subdivides the recreational sector into private and charter components. The court also concluded that, although the Council’s analysis does not offer quantitative predictions of the effects that Amendment 40 might have on the fishing community, the Council used the best available data to reasonably “assess, specify, and analyze” the likely economic and social effects of Amendment 40. Finally, the court concluded that the selection of data ranges used to calculate quota allocations was not arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Coastal Conservation Association v. U.S. Department of Commerce" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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The Commission issued two citations to Noranda and assessed penalties for the citations. Noranda's upper management and counsel later realized that the assessment had been paid even though Noranda apparently had intended to contest the citations rather than pay the assessment. Noranda petitions for review of the Commission's order denying a motion to reopen, seeking to adjudicate the citation and penalty on the merits. Because the Commission has not applied its "internal processing system" rule consistently, the court found that the Commission abused its discretion by arbitrarily denying Noranda’s motion to reopen. Accordingly, the court granted the petition and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the court noted that the Commission may very well deny Noranda’s motion to reopen, but it must do so with more clarity than it showed in the first instance. View "Noranda Alumina, LLC. v. Perez" on Justia Law

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After Hurricane Katrina, Congress directed the Corps to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) as a federal navigation project and restore the surrounding ecosystem. The Corps sought a cost-sharing arrangement with Louisiana. Louisiana objected and filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2), contending that the Corps’ decision, expressed in two Corps reports to Congress, was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion because the relevant statutes require the federal government to bear 100 percent of the costs. The district court agreed with Louisiana and rejected a statute of limitations challenge to the suit and concluded that the relevant statutes unambiguously require the Corps to bear all of the costs of deauthorizing the MR-GO. The court bifurcated the limitations issue and found Louisiana’s APA challenge to the closure portion of the deauthorization project timely filed, but dismissed the challenge to the Corps’ decision concerning the ecosystem restoration project because the agency has not taken final action under the APA. On the merits, the court reversed the district court’s judgment that overturned the required cost-sharing between Louisiana and the Corps, which constitutes a reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutes. View "Louisiana State v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenge the EPA's action disapproving Oklahoma’s and Texas’s plans for controlling regional haze and imposing EPA’s own plans instead. The court denied EPA’s motion to dismiss or transfer because the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, gives jurisdiction over petitions for review to the courts of appeal generally and because the Act’s forum selection clause designates the regional circuit as the appropriate venue for this challenge. The court granted the motion for a stay pending resolution of the petitions for review on the merits because petitioners have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits, because they are likely to suffer irreparable injury in the absence of a stay while EPA has not shown similar injury from the issuance of a stay, and because the public interest weighs in favor of a stay. View "State of Texas v. EPA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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Landowners challenged the Service's final designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. The district court granted summary judgment for Landowners on the issue of standing and granted summary judgment for the Service on the merits. The court concluded that Landowners have standing to challenge the Service’s critical-habitat designation. The court also concluded that the designation of Unit 1 as critical habitat was not arbitrary and capricious nor based upon an unreasonable interpretation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531, where the Service reasonably determined (1) that designating occupied habitat alone would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the dusky gopher frog and (2) that Unit 1 is essential for the conservation of the frog. Even if the court assumed that Landowners are correct that the economic benefits of exclusion outweigh the conservation benefits of designation, the Service is still not obligated to exclude Unit 1. That decision is committed to the agency’s discretion and is not reviewable. Because Landowners concede that the critical habitat provision of the ESA is a valid exercise of Congress’s Commerce Clause authority, the court can likewise conclude that the application of the ESA’s critical habitat provision to Unit 1 is a constitutional exercise of the Commerce Clause power. Finally, the court concluded that the Service was not required to complete an environmental impact statement before designating Unit 1 as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, and Landowners lack standing to sue to enforce the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Markle Interests v. US Fish & Wildlife Serv." on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law