Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Plaintiffs, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, visited the Cherokee Bear Zoo. Plaintiffs observed bear pits containing four bears, identified by signs as grizzly bears. The pits were compact and made entirely of concrete. Each pit had a small pool of water, but neither had any vegetation nor any shade. Plaintiffs observed the bears in listless form, pacing and begging for food. Patrons fed the bears apples and dry bread sold by the Zoo. Plaintiffs brought a citizen suit, alleging that the Zoo’s practice of keeping the bears in the described living conditions constituted a “tak[ing]” of and possession of a taken threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1). Plaintiffs’ argued that the Zoo’s conduct is a form of “harass[ment]” of, and “harm” to, its bears. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings in favor of Plaintiffs on the issues of standing and the bears’ status as protected but vacated the court’s ruling against Plaintiffs on the issue of whether the Zoo is committing an unlawful taking. To establish harassment, Plaintiffs must prove that the Zoo’s husbandry practices fall within 50 C.F.R. 17.3’s definition of harass and that those practices do not fall within the enumerated exclusion. The district court did not reach the first issue and improperly declined to ask whether the Zoo’s animal husbandry practices are “generally accepted.” View "Hill v. Coggins" on Justia Law

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The federal court's authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to correct an alleged failure by the EPA to perform a non-discretionary, CAA-based act or duty, does not extend to review of the EPA's management of its continuous duty to evaluate the potential employment impact of CAA administration and enforcement. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgments insofar as they impact the EPA, and remanded with instructions to have Murray's suit dismissed for want of jurisdiction. The court dismissed as moot Mon Valley's appeal of the denial of its motion to intervene. View "Murray Energy Corp. v. EPA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit 15 years after Consolidation Coal began its dewatering operation into Beatrice Mine, alleging that Consolidation Coal damaged plaintiffs' property interests in the exhausted Beatrice Mine and unjustly enriched itself. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that, because Consolidation Coal's water transfer was permitted by a state agency that had been delegated authority by federal law, it amounted to a federally permitted transfer and could not serve as a basis for a cause of action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-9675; even if plaintiffs were to have the benefit of section 9658's discovery rule, they still could not satisfy the applicable statutes of limitations; the level of public notice and publicity that occurred with respect to Consolidation Coal's dewatering activities should reasonably have informed plaintiffs of those activities more than five years before plaintiffs commenced their lawsuits; and the court declined to toll the statutes of limitations under Virginia law in light of the record in this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Blankenship v. Consolidation Coal" on Justia 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

Posted in: Environmental 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

Posted in: Environmental 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

Posted in: Environmental 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