Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Conservationists filed suit under the Clean Water Act and Florida law, challenging the Corps' decisions about when and how to release water from certain locks along the Okeechobee Waterway. The district court dismissed the complaint based on the Corps' sovereign immunity. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) required the dismissal of this case regardless of whether the court agreed with the Water District's sequencing argument on cross-appeal or the Corps' sovereign immunity argument. The court need not reach those matters because the Water District was an indispensable party under Rule 19(b) and thus the action may not proceed without the Water District. View "Florida Wildlife Federation Inc. v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit seeking to move or extend the Brick-Kiln Dock to improve its accessibility. Plaintiffs argued that the deed by which plaintiffs conveyed the island property to the government and reserved the right to continue to use the dock permitted them to relocate the dock. Alternatively, plaintiffs contend that the Park Service's denial of permission to relocate or extend the dock was arbitrary and capricious. The court affirmed the district court's determination that, under the plain language of the deed, plaintiffs have no reserved right to unilaterally relocate or extend the dock. The court also concluded that the Park Service's denial of permission to relocate or extend the Dock was not arbitrary or capricious and did not exceed its authority. In this case, the Wilderness Act, 16 U.S.C. 1131(a), foreclosed relocation of the Dock, and the Park Service was authorized to regulate the marshlands. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "High Point, LLLP v. National Park Service" on Justia Law

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This case involves the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and City's efforts to build a new bridge across the North Fork St. Lucie River. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, 49 U.S.C. 303(c), allows the Secretary of Transportation to approve projects that use section 4(f) lands only if the agency first determines that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to using that land. Plaintiff filed suit claiming that the FHWA abused its discretion in not selecting their proffered alternative that, when built with a spliced-beam construction, would avoid all use of section 4(f) lands. The FHWA concluded that the spliced-beam construction would be "imprudent" because it would cause significantly greater harm to non–section 4(f) wetland areas, as well as "severe social impacts." The court concluded that FHWA was thorough and careful in its analysis and thoughtful in its determination, and the court could discern neither an arbitrary or capricious action nor an abuse of discretion. In this case, the FHWA made its calculus carefully, giving thoughtful consideration to a wide variety of factors, and it worked with many agencies, even those that once opposed the project, to develop remediation plans that mitigate harms to the affected areas. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County v. U.S. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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In 1988, NPS acquired additional land to the the Big Cypress National Preserve. NPCA filed suit contending that the the NPS's General Management Plan's (GMP) inclusion of Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) trails for the Addition Lands was arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the Wilderness Act, 16 U.S.C. 1131-1136, and Organic Act. The district court concluded that the NPS did not violate the Wilderness Act, finding that the 2010 reassessment of the wilderness eligibility determination was the result of reasoned decision-making rather than political manipulation; with respect to the 1/2-mile buffer, the NPS’s rational for excluding those lands from wilderness eligibility was supported by the record; NPS did not violate the Organic Act by failing to promote conservation because the record supported the NPS’s conclusion that the existing ORV trail network retained the imprint of human engineering and would continue to handle ORV traffic from private property owners accessing their property; and the NPS’s Biological Evaluation and the FWS’s Biological Opinion regarding the eastern indigo snake and Florida panther were supported by the record. NPCA appealed. The court rejected NPCA's claims and concluded that substantial evidence supports the district court's conclusions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "National Parks Conservation Ass'n v. US DOI" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the EPA and the Corps' joint promulgation of the Clean Water Rule, which defines the term “Waters of the United States” for purposes of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. The district court subsequently denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding that 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1) gives courts of appeals exclusive original jurisdiction over challenges to the rule. Plaintiffs appealed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief. Plaintiffs in this case also filed in this court what they termed a “protective” petition for direct review of their Clean Water Rule challenge. The court concluded that, because of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the Clean Water Rule, those opposing the rule are not being harmed by it in the interim. And, if the Sixth Circuit holds that the rule is invalid, that will end the matter, subject (as all panel decisions are) to the possibility of en banc and certiorari review. In any event, the decision of that court will likely narrow and refine, if not render moot, at least some of the issues this court asked the parties to brief. For all of these reasons, the court exercised its discretion to stay its hand in this case pending a decision of the Sixth Circuit or further developments. Accordingly, the court held the appeal in abeyance and ordered the district court to stay all further proceedings. View "State of Georgia v. McCarthey" on Justia Law

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The County petitioned for review of the Board's ruling reversing the ALJ's findings and conclusions in a proceeding under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. 1367. The parties agreed that the Board incorrectly applied a de novo rather than substantial-evidence standard to the ALJ's findings. The court denied the petition for review, concluding that reviewing for substantial evidence would not have changed the result because the Board reversed the ALJ on matters of law, not fact. View "DeKalb Cnty. v. U.S. Dept. of Labor" on Justia Law

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Two separate groups brought pre-enforcement challenges to the MSHA's final rule, entitled Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors (New Dust Rule). On the first challenge, the court concluded that, consistent with the plain language of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act), 30 U.S.C. 801 et seq., and with the earlier precedent of this court, the statute as amended clearly evinces a congressional intent that, although it must consider the advice of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), MSHA has the sole responsibility to issue regulations covering the subjects addressed by this rule. On the second challenge, the court concluded that MSHA’s decades-long effort, culminating in the publication of this rule, adequately took into account the scientific evidence of record and arrived at conclusions which, given MSHA’s expertise, are worthy of deference. Accordingly, the court denied the petitions for review. View "National Mining Ass'n v. Secretary, U.S. Dep't of Labor" on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed petitions with the EPA seeking to withdraw Alabama's authorization to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), as part of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. On appeal, petitioners challenged the EPA's findings on some of the 22 alleged deficiencies that did not warrant the initiation of program withdrawal proceedings. The court dismissed the appeal without prejudice, concluding that it does not have jurisdiction to review the interim report with which petitioners disagreed because EPA has not made a "determination" within the meaning of section 1396(b)(1)(D). View "Cahaba Riverkeeper v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Defenders of Wildlife appealed a district court’s grant of final summary judgment to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as to the Alabama Coal Association and several other intervenor mining companies. Riverkeeper challenges the 2012 version of Nationwide Permit 21 (“NWP 21”), a general permit that allowed surface coal mining operations to discharge dredged or fill materials into navigable waters. Riverkeeper argued that the Corps arbitrarily and capriciously found that NWP 21 would have no more than minimal environmental effects, in violation of both the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. After deciding Riverkeeper has standing to sue, the district court held that Riverkeeper’s lawsuit was, nonetheless, barred by the equitable doctrine of laches. After thorough review, however, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the intervenors have shown neither inexcusable delay on the part of Riverkeeper nor prejudice resulting from Riverkeeper’s alleged delay. To the extent that Riverkeeper lagged in filing suit, its delay was slight and excused by its need to adequately investigate and prepare its claims in this complex case. Moreover, the Intervenors’ modest showing of harm, stated only at the highest order of abstraction, does not outweigh the potential environmental benefits of allowing Riverkeeper to proceed. As for the merits of Riverkeeper’s environmental claims, the district court concluded, after thorough deliberation, that the Corps’ determinations that NWP 21 would have only “minimal cumulative adverse effect” on the environment, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, and “no significant impact” on the environment, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, were neither arbitrary nor capricious. However, literally on the eve of oral argument before the Eleventh Circuit, the Corps admitted that it had underestimated the acreage of waters that would be affected by the projects authorized under the permit. In the face of this change in facts, the Eleventh Circuit ordered the parties to provide supplemental briefing on the implications of the Corps’ error. The Corps then conceded that the district court’s decision must be reversed and the matter remanded to the Corps for further consideration based on a more accurate assessment of the potential impacts of NWP 21. The Eleventh Circuit agreed. View "Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Inc., et al v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671-2680, against the United States, alleging that they experienced various health problems after being exposed to toxic substances in the drinking water while living at Camp Lejeune, a military base in North Carolina. The United States argued that the North Carolina statute of repose, N.C. Gen. Stat. 1-52(16), precluded plaintiffs from bringing the case. The district court disagreed and certified two questions for interlocutory appeal. The court held that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9568, does not preempt North Carolina's statute of repose. The court also held that North Carolina's statute of repose applies to plaintiffs' claims and does not contain an exception for latent diseases. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Bryant, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law