Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Peat mining companies sought a Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1311(a), 1362, permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, to discharge material onto wetlands on property that they own and hope to mine. The Corps issued a jurisdictional designation (JD) stating that the property contained “waters of the United States” because its wetlands had a “significant nexus” to the Red River of the North, located 120 miles away. The district court dismissed their appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that the JD was not a “final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy,” 5 U.S.C. 704. The Eighth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Corps’ approved JD is a final agency action judicially reviewable under the Administrative Procedures Act. An approved JD clearly “mark[s] the consummation” of the Corps’ decision-making on whether particular property contains “waters of the United States.” It is issued after extensive fact-finding regarding the property’s physical and hydrological characteristics and typically remains valid for five years. The Corps describes approved JDs as “final agency action.” The definitive nature of approved JDs gives rise to “direct and appreciable legal consequences.” A “negative” creates a five-year safe harbor from governmental civil enforcement proceedings and limits the potential liability for violating the Act. An “affirmative” JD, like issued here, deprives property owners of the five-year safe harbor. Parties need not await enforcement proceedings before challenging final agency action where such proceedings carry the risk of “serious criminal and civil penalties.” The permitting process is costly and lengthy, and irrelevant to the finality of the approved JD and its suitability for judicial review. View "Army Corps of Eng'rs v. Hawkes Co." on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act (CAA) directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from stationary sources, such as refineries and factories, 42 U.S.C. 7412; it may regulate power plants under this program only if it concludes that “regulation is appropriate and necessary” after studying hazards to public health. EPA found power-plant regulation “appropriate” because power plant emissions pose risks to public health and the environment and because controls capable of reducing these emissions were available. It found regulation “necessary” because other CAA requirements did not eliminate those risks. EPA estimated that the cost of power plant regulation would be $9.6 billion a year, but that quantifiable benefits from the reduction in hazardous-air-pollutant emissions would be $4-$6 million a year. The D. C. Circuit upheld EPA’s refusal to consider costs. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. EPA interpreted section 7412(n)(1)(A) unreasonably when it deemed cost irrelevant to the decision to regulate power plants. “’Appropriate and necessary’ is a capacious phrase.” It is not rational, nor “appropriate,” to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits. That other CAA provisions expressly mention cost indicates that section 7412(n)(1)(A)’s broad reference to appropriateness encompasses multiple relevant factors, including cost. The possibility of considering cost at a later stage, when deciding how much to regulate power plants, does not establish its irrelevance at the earlier stage. Although the CAA makes cost irrelevant to the initial decision to regulate sources other than power plants, the point of having a separate provision for power plants was to treat power plants differently. EPA must decide how to account for cost. View "Michigan v. Envtl. Prot. Agency" on Justia Law

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In 1943, Congress approved a Compact between Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado to apportion the “virgin water originating in” the Republican River Basin. In 1998, Kansas filed an original action in the Supreme Court contending that Nebraska’s increased groundwater pumping was subject to the Compact to the extent that it depleted stream flow in the Basin. The Court agreed. Negotiations resulted in a 2002 Settlement, which identified the Accounting Procedures by which the states would measure stream flow depletion, and thus consumption, due to groundwater pumping. The Settlement reaffirmed that “imported water,” brought into the Basin by human activity, would not count toward consumption. In 2007, Kansas claimed that Nebraska had exceeded its allocation. Nebraska responded that the Accounting Procedures improperly charged it for imported water and requested that the Accounting Procedures be modified. The Court appointed a Special Master, whose report concluded that Nebraska “knowingly failed” to comply, recommended that Nebraska disgorge part of its gains in addition to paying damages, and recommended denying an injunction and reforming the Accounting Procedures. The Supreme Court adopted the recommendations. Nebraska failed to establish adequate compliance mechanisms, given a known substantial risk that it would violate Kansas’s rights; Nebraska was warned each year that it had exceeded its allotment. Because of the higher value of water on Nebraska’s farmland than on Kansas’s, Nebraska could take Kansas’s water, pay damages, and still benefit. The disgorgement award is sufficient to deter future breaches. Kansas failed to demonstrate a “cognizable danger of recurrent violation” necessary to obtain an injunction. Amending the Accounting Procedures is necessary to prevent serious inaccuracies from distorting intended apportionment. View "Kansas v. Nebraska" on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act requires permits for stationary sources, such as factories and powerplants. The Act’s “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” (PSD) provisions make it unlawful to construct or modify a “major emitting facility” in “any area to which [PSD program] applies” without a permit, 42 U.S.C. 7475(a)(1), 7479(2)(C). A “major emitting facility” is a stationary source with the potential to emit 250 tons per year of “any air pollutant” (or 100 tons per year for certain sources). Facilities seeking a PSD permit must comply with emissions limitations that reflect the “best available control technology” (BACT) for “each pollutant subject to regulation under” the Act and it is unlawful to operate any “major source,” wherever located, without a permit. A “major source” is a stationary source with the potential to emit 100 tons per year of “any air pollutant,” under Title V of the Act. In response to the Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA promulgated greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission standards for new vehicles, and made stationary sources subject to the PSD program and Title V, based on potential GHG emissions. Recognizing that requiring permits for all sources with GHG emissions above statutory thresholds would render the programs unmanageable, EPA purported to “tailor” the programs to accommodate GHGs by providing that sources would not become newly subject to PSD or Title V permitting on the basis of their potential to emit GHGs in amounts less than 100,000 tons per year. The D.C. Circuit dismissed some challenges to the tailoring rule for lack of jurisdiction and denied the rest. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that the Act does not permit an interpretation requiring a source to obtain a PSD or Title V permit on the sole basis of potential GHG emissions. The Massachusetts decision held that the Act-wide definition of “air pollutant” includes GHGs, but with respect to PSD and Title V permitting provisions, EPA has employed a narrower, context-appropriate meaning. Massachusetts did not invalidate the long-standing constructions. “The Act-wide definition is not a command to regulate, but a description of the universe of substances EPA may consider regulating.” The presumption of consistent usage yields to context and distinct statutory objects call for different implementation strategies. EPA has repeatedly acknowledged that applying PSD and Title V permitting requirements to GHGs would be inconsistent with the Act’s structure and design, which concern “a relative handful of large sources capable of shouldering heavy substantive and procedural burdens.” EPA lacked authority to “tailor” the Act’s unambiguous numerical thresholds to accommodate its GHG-inclusive interpretation. EPA reasonably interpreted the Act to require sources that would need permits based on emission of conventional pollutants to comply with BACT for GHGs. BACT, which has traditionally been about end-of-stack controls, may be fundamentally unsuited to GHG regulation, but applying BACT to GHGs is not "disastrously unworkable," and need not result in a dramatic expansion of agency authority. View "Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. 960, contains a provision (section 9658) that preempts statutes of limitations applicable to state-law actions for personal injury or property damage arising from the release of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant into the environment. Section 9658 adopts the discovery rule, so that statutes of limitations begin to run when a plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that the harm was caused by the contaminant because person who is exposed to a toxic contaminant may not develop or show signs of resulting injury for many years. CTS sold property on which it had stored chemicals as part its operations as an electronics plant; 24 years later, owners of parts of that property and adjacent landowners, sued, alleging damages from the stored contaminants. CTS moved to dismiss, citing a state statute of repose that prevented subjecting a defendant to a tort suit brought more than 10 years after the defendant’s last culpable act. Because CTS’s last act occurred when it sold the property, the district court granted the motion. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the statute’s remedial purpose favored preemption. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding that section 9658 does not pre-empt state statutes of repose. Statutes of limitations promote justice by encouraging plaintiffs to pursue claims diligently and begin to run when a claim accrues. Statutes of repose effect a legislative judgment that a defendant should be free from liability after a legislatively determined amount of time and are measured from the date of the defendant’s last culpable actor omission. Under the language of the statute, pre-emption is characterized as an exception to the regular rule that the “the statute of limitations established under State law” applies; it is proper to conclude that Congress did not intend to preempt statutes of repose. View "CTS Corp. v. Waldburger" on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for pollutants at levels that will protect public health, 42 U.S.C. 7408. Once EPA establishes NAAQS, it designates “nonattainment” areas; each state must submit a State Implementation Plan, (SIP), within three years of any new or revised NAAQS. From the date EPA determines that a SIP is inadequate, EPA has two years to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). SIPs must comply with a Good Neighbor Provision, and “contain adequate provisions ... prohibiting .. . any source or other type of emissions activity within the State from emitting any air pollutant in amounts which will ... contribute significantly to nonattainment in, or interfere with maintenance by, any other State with respect to” NAAQS. In response to flaws in its 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, identified by the D. C. Circuit, EPA promulgated the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (Transport Rule), curbing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions in 27 upwind states to achieve downwind attainment of three NAAQS and providing that an upwind state contributed significantly to downwind nonattainment if its exported pollution produced at least one percent of a NAAQS in a downwind state and could be eliminated cost-effectively. EPA created an annual emissions “budget” for each upwind state and contemporaneously promulgated FIPs allocating each state’s budget among its pollution sources. The D.C. Circuit vacated the rule as exceeding EPA’s authority. The Supreme Court reversed. The CAA does not require that states be given another opportunity to file a SIP after EPA has quantified interstate pollution obligations. Disapproval of a SIP, without more, triggers EPA’s obligation to issue a FIP within precise deadlines. That EPA had previously accorded upwind states a chance to allocate emission budgets among their sources does not show that it acted arbitrarily by refraining to do so in this instance. The Good Neighbor Provision does not dictate a method of apportionment, so EPA had authority to select from among reasonable options; nothing precludes the final calculation from relying on costs. By imposing uniform cost thresholds on regulated states, the rule is efficient and is stricter on states that have done less pollution control in the past and does not amount to “over-control.” View "Envtl. Prot. Agency v. EME Homer City Generation, L. P." on Justia Law

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In 1972 Koontz bought 14.9 undeveloped acres. Florida subsequently enacted the 1972 Water Resources Act, requiring a permit with conditions to ensure that construction will not be harm water resources and the 1984 Henderson Wetlands Protection Act, making it illegal to “dredge or fill in, on, or over surface waters” without a wetlands permit. The District with jurisdiction over the Koontz land requires that applicants wishing to build on wetlands offset environmental damage by creating, enhancing, or preserving wetlands elsewhere. Koontz decided to develop 3.7-acres. In 1994 he proposed to raise a section of his land to make it suitable for building and installing a stormwater pond. To mitigate environmental effects, Koontz offered to foreclose development of 11 acres by deeding to the District a conservation easement. The District rejected Koontz’s proposal and indicated that it would approve construction only if he reduced the size of his development and deeded a conservation easement on the larger remaining property or hired contractors to improve District wetlands miles away. Koontz sued under a state law that provides damages for agency action that constitutes a taking without just compensation. The trial court found the District’s actions unlawful under the requirements of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard, that the government may not condition permit approval on the owner’s relinquishment of a portion of his property unless there is a nexus and rough proportionality between the demand and the effects of the proposed use. The court of appeal affirmed, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that a governmental demand for property from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan requirements even when it denies the permit. The Nollan/Dolan standard reflects the danger of governmental coercion in the land-use permitting context while accommodating the legitimate need to offset public costs of development through land use exactions. It makes no difference that the Koontz property was not actually taken. It does not matter that the District might have been able to deny Koontz’s application outright without giving him the option of securing a permit by agreeing to spend money improving public lands. Even a demand for money from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan requirements; there is a direct link between the demand and a specific parcel of real property. The Court rejected arguments that applying Nollan/Dolan scrutiny to money exactions will leave no principled way of distinguishing impermissible land-use exactions from property taxes, stating that its holding “will not work a revolution in land use law or unduly limit the discretion of local authorities to implement sensible land use regulations.” View "Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist." on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act requires permits for stationary sources, such as factories and powerplants. The Act’s “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” (PSD) provisions make it unlawful to construct or modify a “major emitting facility” in “any area to which [PSD program] applies” without a permit, 42 U.S.C. 7475(a)(1), 7479(2)(C). A “major emitting facility” is a stationary source with the potential to emit 250 tons per year of “any air pollutant” (or 100 tons per year for certain sources). Facilities seeking a PSD permit must comply with emissions limitations that reflect the “best available control technology” (BACT) for “each pollutant subject to regulation under” the Act and it is unlawful to operate any “major source,” wherever located, without a permit. A “major source” is a stationary source with the potential to emit 100 tons per year of “any air pollutant,” under Title V of the Act. In response to the Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA promulgated greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission standards for new vehicles, and made stationary sources subject to the PSD program and Title V, based on potential GHG emissions. Recognizing that requiring permits for all sources with GHG emissions above statutory thresholds would render the programs unmanageable, EPA purported to “tailor” the programs to accommodate GHGs by providing that sources would not become newly subject to PSD or Title V permitting on the basis of their potential to emit GHGs in amounts less than 100,000 tons per year. The D.C. Circuit dismissed some challenges to the tailoring rule for lack of jurisdiction and denied the rest. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that the Act does not permit an interpretation requiring a source to obtain a PSD or Title V permit on the sole basis of potential GHG emissions. The Massachusetts decision held that the Act-wide definition of “air pollutant” includes GHGs, but with respect to PSD and Title V permitting provisions, EPA has employed a narrower, context-appropriate meaning. Massachusetts did not invalidate the long-standing constructions. “The Act-wide definition is not a command to regulate, but a description of the universe of substances EPA may consider regulating.” The presumption of consistent usage yields to context and distinct statutory objects call for different implementation strategies. EPA has repeatedly acknowledged that applying PSD and Title V permitting requirements to GHGs would be inconsistent with the Act’s structure and design, which concern “a relative handful of large sources capable of shouldering heavy substantive and procedural burdens.” EPA lacked authority to “tailor” the Act’s unambiguous numerical thresholds to accommodate its GHG-inclusive interpretation. EPA reasonably interpreted the Act to require sources that would need permits based on emission of conventional pollutants to comply with BACT for GHGs. BACT, which has traditionally been about end-of-stack controls, may be fundamentally unsuited to GHG regulation, but applying BACT to GHGs is not "disastrously unworkable," and need not result in a dramatic expansion of agency authority. View "Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. 960, contains a provision (section 9658) that preempts statutes of limitations applicable to state-law actions for personal injury or property damage arising from the release of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant into the environment. Section 9658 adopts the discovery rule, so that statutes of limitations begin to run when a plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that the harm was caused by the contaminant because person who is exposed to a toxic contaminant may not develop or show signs of resulting injury for many years. CTS sold property on which it had stored chemicals as part its operations as an electronics plant; 24 years later, owners of parts of that property and adjacent landowners, sued, alleging damages from the stored contaminants. CTS moved to dismiss, citing a state statute of repose that prevented subjecting a defendant to a tort suit brought more than 10 years after the defendant’s last culpable act. Because CTS’s last act occurred when it sold the property, the district court granted the motion. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the statute’s remedial purpose favored preemption. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding that section 9658 does not pre-empt state statutes of repose. Statutes of limitations promote justice by encouraging plaintiffs to pursue claims diligently and begin to run when a claim accrues. Statutes of repose effect a legislative judgment that a defendant should be free from liability after a legislatively determined amount of time and are measured from the date of the defendant’s last culpable actor omission. Under the language of the statute, pre-emption is characterized as an exception to the regular rule that the “the statute of limitations established under State law” applies; it is proper to conclude that Congress did not intend to preempt statutes of repose. View "CTS Corp. v. Waldburger" on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for pollutants at levels that will protect public health, 42 U.S.C. 7408. Once EPA establishes NAAQS, it designates “nonattainment” areas; each state must submit a State Implementation Plan, (SIP), within three years of any new or revised NAAQS. From the date EPA determines that a SIP is inadequate, EPA has two years to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). SIPs must comply with a Good Neighbor Provision, and “contain adequate provisions ... prohibiting .. . any source or other type of emissions activity within the State from emitting any air pollutant in amounts which will ... contribute significantly to nonattainment in, or interfere with maintenance by, any other State with respect to” NAAQS. In response to flaws in its 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, identified by the D. C. Circuit, EPA promulgated the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (Transport Rule), curbing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions in 27 upwind states to achieve downwind attainment of three NAAQS and providing that an upwind state contributed significantly to downwind nonattainment if its exported pollution produced at least one percent of a NAAQS in a downwind state and could be eliminated cost-effectively. EPA created an annual emissions “budget” for each upwind state and contemporaneously promulgated FIPs allocating each state’s budget among its pollution sources. The D.C. Circuit vacated the rule as exceeding EPA’s authority. The Supreme Court reversed. The CAA does not require that states be given another opportunity to file a SIP after EPA has quantified interstate pollution obligations. Disapproval of a SIP, without more, triggers EPA’s obligation to issue a FIP within precise deadlines. That EPA had previously accorded upwind states a chance to allocate emission budgets among their sources does not show that it acted arbitrarily by refraining to do so in this instance. The Good Neighbor Provision does not dictate a method of apportionment, so EPA had authority to select from among reasonable options; nothing precludes the final calculation from relying on costs. By imposing uniform cost thresholds on regulated states, the rule is efficient and is stricter on states that have done less pollution control in the past and does not amount to “over-control.” View "Envtl. Prot. Agency v. EME Homer City Generation, L. P." on Justia Law