Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Virginia Uranium filed suit seeking a declaration that the ban on mining the Coles Hill uranium deposit was preempted by federal law and an injunction compelling the Commonwealth to grant uranium mining permits. The district court granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss. On appeal, Virginia Uranium maintains that the Atomic Energy Act preempts Virginia's ban on uranium mining. The court concluded that the district court correctly held that Virginia's ban on conventional uranium mining is not preempted. The court explained that, because conventional uranium mining outside of federal lands is beyond the regulatory ambit of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it is not an "activity" under section 2021(k) of the Act. The court rejected Virginia Uranium's contention that uranium-ore milling and tailings storage are activities under section 2021(k) of the Act, and concluded that the Commonwealth’s mining ban does not purport to regulate an activity within the Act's reach. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly dismissed the case where Congress's purposes and objectives in passing the Act are not materially affected by the Commonwealth's ban on conventional uranium mining. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Virginia Uranium v. Warren" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, several environmental groups, filed suit against the Fola Coal Company alleging that it had violated the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251, and seeking injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the company discharged ions and sulfates in sufficient quantities to cause increased conductivity in the Stillhouse Branch tributary and waterway, which resulted in a violation of water quality standards. The district court found that the company had indeed violated the Act and ordered it to take corrective measures. The court concluded that, because the company did not comply with the conditions of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit, the permit does not shield it from liability under the CWA. Therefore, the district court properly ordered appropriate remedial measures. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Company, LLC" on Justia Law
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At issue in this case was the proposed construction of a twenty-two-mile toll road in North Carolina called the Gaston East-West Connector. Two Conservation Groups brought suit against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (collectively, the Agencies), and others, challenging the environmental analysis conducted for the Connector. The district court granted summary judgment for the Conservation Groups, concluding that the alternatives analysis underlying the Connector violated National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and that the Agencies failed adequately to assess and disclose the Connector’s environmental impacts. NCDOT appealed. Before the district court ruled, however, the Connector was stripped of its funding, and the statute that expressly authorized its construction was repealed. Following the district court’s ruling, the Connector was removed from local and state transportation plans. The Fourth District vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions that the district court dismiss the action, holding that the appeal was moot where the Connector was no longer viable. View "Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation v. North Carolina Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenge the adequacy of the environmental review conducted by the Corps before it issued a permit pursuant to section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, authorizing Raven Crest to discharge fill material into waters of the United States in conjunction with that mine. The district court granted the Corps’ and Raven Crest’s motions for summary judgment, holding that the Corps properly determined that the connection between surface coal mining and public health was an issue not properly within the scope of its environmental review. The court affirmed and concluded that this case is indistinguishable from the court's precedent in Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Aracoma Coal Company, in which the court rejected a similar challenge. In Aracoma, the court held that the “specific activity” authorized by the section 404 permit was “nothing more than the filling of jurisdictional waters for the purpose of creating an underdrain system for the larger valley fill,” and that the Corps did not have sufficient control and responsibility over the entire valley fill to warrant including the entire project in the scope of the Corps’ environmental review. View "Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal. v. US Army Corps" on Justia Law
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Defendants, four commercial boat captains, were charged with violating the Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. 3372(a)(1), after they caught Atlantic striped bass in federal waters and later sold them. The district court granted defendants' motions to dismiss the indictment. The court concluded that the text of the fishery management plan created by the Commission and referenced by the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 5151, in fact regulates only state coastal waters, and accordingly does not regulate fishing in federal waters. Therefore, the court concluded that the Lacey Act does not except from prosecution defendants' conduct alleged in the indictments. The court also rejected the contention that the regulatory regime governing defendants' actions is unconstitutionally vague. Accordingly, the court reversed the orders of the district court dismissing the indictments and remanded the cases with instructions that the indictments be reinstated. View "United States v. Saunders" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Maryland residents, filed suit against defendants, current and former owners of an industrial property in Baltimore, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq., alleging that the property has been contaminated by hazardous waste. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. In granting the motion to dismiss as to CBAC Gaming, the district court did not state whether its ruling was based upon Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(6). The court concluded that the district court's dismissal of the complaint under either Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) was incorrect; it would have been error to dismiss the complaint against CBAC Gaming for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) because a defense to liability under RCRA based on section 6905(a) does not implicate jurisdiction; and, under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court failed to identify how the complaint’s RCRA allegations are “inconsistent” with the the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251-1387. The court concluded that the complaint sufficiently alleged a claim against the City and Maryland Chemical. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment dismissing all of plaintiff's RCRA claims against CBAC Gaming, the City , and Maryland Chemical and remanded for further proceedings. View "Goldfarb v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore" on Justia Law
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The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League filed suit against various parties under federal law to stop what it fears will be significant degradation to 485 acres of freshwater wetlands and its conversion to saltwater wetlands. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action as moot where the record on appeal does not support the proposition that granting the League the relief it seeks on any of its claims will likely prevent the water within the Embanked Tract from becoming more saline. Because the district court’s mootness ruling is sound and the League has offered no additional basis for standing, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying, on the ground of futility, the League’s motion seeking leave to amend its First Amended Complaint. View "South Carolina Coastal v. U.S. Army Corps" on Justia Law

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In the early 1980s, Georgia Power Company sold a number of its used electrical transformers to Ward Transformer Company (Ward). Because the electrical transformers contained toxic compounds that have been banned since 1979, Ward repaired and rebuilt the transformers for resale to meet third-party customers’ specifications. In the process, one of Ward’s facilities in Raleigh, North Carolina (the Ward Site) became contaminated. In the 2000s, the EPA initiated a costly removal action at the Ward Site. Consolidated Coal Company and PCS Phosphate Company, Inc. each paid more than $17 million in cleanup costs related to the Ward Site. In 2008 and 2009, they filed complaints under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act against Georgia Power alleging that, as supplier of some of the transformers to Ward, Georgia Power should be liable for a contribution to those costs. The district court granted summary judgment for Georgia Power. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the circumstances of the transformer sales did not indicate Georgia Power’s intent to dispose of the toxic compounds and therefore did not support arranger liability. View "Consolidation Coal Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law

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The Forest Service manages the Chatooga River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA), 16 U.S.C. 1274 et seq. In 2012, the Forest Service revised its management plan for the Chatooga to allow floating on most of the Headwaters during the winter months, when flows are highest and conditions are best. American Whitewater argues that the revised plan does not go far enough and that the remaining limits on floating are inconsistent with the WSRA and arbitrary and capricious. Two intervening parties, ForestWatch and the Rusts, argue that the Forest Service's decision to allow floating goes too far, contending that the WSRA prohibits any floating on the Headwaters whatsoever, and that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. The court agreed with the district court's well-reasoned opinion where the district court rejected both sets of challenges and found that the Forest Service's revised plan carefully balanced the wide-ranging interests advocated by the several parties and participants. The court affirmed the judgment. View "American Whitewater v. Thomas Tidwell" on Justia Law
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This dispute concerns the Bonner Bridge, which provides highway access between mainland North Carolina and the Outer Bank's Hatteras Island. Plaintiffs filed suit claiming that defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4370f, and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Defendants settled on a plan that essentially mirrors what currently exists: replacing the Bonner Bridge and maintaining NC 12 on Hatteras Island. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' NEPA challenge where defendants have not engaged in unlawful segmentation with respect to the five studied parallel bridge alternatives. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' Section 4(f) challenge because a Section 4(f) analysis is irrelevant if the joint planning exception applies. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. NC Dept. of Transp." on Justia Law