Articles 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

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Exxon, alleging that Exxon violated the federal permits governing operations at the Baytown industrial complex thousands of times over a nearly eight year period. The district court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law denying most of plaintiffs’ claims and declining to order any relief. Exxon's Baytown industrial complex is governed by the five federal operating permits issued under Title V of the the Clean Air Act (CCA), 42 U.S.C. 7661a-7661d. The court concluded that the district court erred in its analysis of Exxon’s liability under Counts I through IV and abused its discretion in assessing three of the CAA’s mandatory penalty factors. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for assessment of penalties based on the violations that are properly considered “actionable” in light of this opinion. View "Environment Texas Citizen Lobby v. ExxonMobil" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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After inspectors found 130,000 barrels of oil floating atop uncovered equalization tanks, CITGO was convicted of multiple violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7413 and 40 C.F.R. 60.690 et seq. (Subpart QQQ), and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA), 16 U.S.C. 703. On appeal, CITGO challenged the district court's CAA convictions, arguing, inter alia, that the district court erroneously instructed the jury about the scope of a regulation concerning "oil-water separators." The court concluded that Subpart QQQ’s text, the overall regulatory scheme, and its promulgation history point to the inescapable conclusion that an equalization tank is not an “oil-water separator.” Because the district court misstated the scope of the regulation, its jury instruction was erroneous and this omission affected the outcome. Therefore, CITGO’s CAA convictions must be reversed. The court also concluded that CITGO's MBTA convictions must be reversed because the court agreed with the Eighth and Ninth circuits that a “taking” is limited to deliberate acts done directly and intentionally to migratory birds. The court's conclusion is based on the statute’s text, its common law origin, a comparison with other relevant statutes, and rejection of the argument that strict liability can change the nature of the necessary illegal act. View "United States v. CITGO Petroleum Corp." on Justia Law

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Congress passed the Clean Water Act "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." The Act bans "the discharge of any pollutant by any person," unless affirmatively allowed by law. This case began when a group of environmental organizations petitioned the EPA to "use its powers [pursuant to section 1313(c)(4)(B)] to control nitrogen and phosphorous pollution" within the Mississippi River Basin and the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The EPA declined to do so. While the agency agreed that nitrogen and phosphorous pollution "is a significant water quality problem," it did "not believe that the comprehensive use of federal rulemaking authority is the most effective or practical means of addressing these concerns at this time." The petitioners filed suit, arguing the EPA had violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the CWA by declining to make a necessity determination. The EPA moved to dismiss the case on subject matter jurisdiction grounds, arguing that the decision whether to make a necessity determination was a discretionary act that the court lacked authority to review. The parties also cross-moved for summary judgment on the merits. Pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in "Massachusetts v. EPA" the district court held that the "EPA could not simply decline to make a necessity determination in response to . . . [the] petition for rulemaking." It remanded the case to the agency with orders to conduct a necessity determination. In doing so, the district court declined to issue specific guidance on "the types of factors that EPA can or cannot consider when actually making the necessity determination." This appeal followed. The Fifth Circuit surmised this case posed two questions: (1) whether it had subject matter jurisdiction to review the EPA's decision not to make a necessity determination; and (2) was the EPA required to make such a determination. The Court held that it had jurisdiction to hear the case, and that the EPA was not required to make such a determination. View "Gulf Restoration Network v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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Borg Warner appealed the district court's determination that it is liable to Vine Street for 75% of the costs associated with cleaning up a plume of perchlorethylene (PERC) that discharged from a dry cleaning business under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a)(3), and the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (TSWDA), Tex. Health & Safety Code 361.271(a)(3). The liability was associated with a former subsidiary of Borg Warner, Norge, which furnished dry cleaning equipment, design assistance, and an initial supply of PERC to the cleaning business. The court concluded that Borg Warner is entitled to judgment in its favor on the CERCLA and TSWDA claims because Norge did not intentional y dispose of a waste product when it sold dry cleaning equipment and an initial supply of PERC to the dry cleaning business. The court noted that the Supreme Court's decision in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. United States changed the relevant law while this case was on appeal. Therefore, the court held that the district court's decision cannot stand in light of Burlington Northern. View "Vine Street LLC v. Keeling" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law