Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the EPA failed to perform its nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Water Act to promulgate pollutant limits for biologically impaired waters in West Virginia. The court held that plaintiffs have standing to bring the claim, but reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs. In this case, because West Virginia has demonstrated that it is making — and will continue to make — good-faith efforts to comply with SB 562, and because West Virginia has a credible plan in concert with the EPA to produce ionic toxicity total maximum daily loads, if the constructive submission doctrine were to apply, it would not be satisfied. View "Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Inc. v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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In 2014, several hundred thousand gallons of gasoline spilled from a rupture in an underground pipeline near Belton, South Carolina. The gasoline seeped into nearby waterways. Following a cleanup, at least 160,000 gallons allegedly remained unrecovered. Plaintiffs allege that the gasoline has continued to travel a distance of 1000 feet or less from the pipeline to Browns Creek and Cupboard Creek, which are tributaries of the Savannah River, and their adjacent wetlands Conservation groups brought a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251–1387, alleging violations by polluting "navigable waters of the United States" without a permit and seeking relief to remediate the ongoing pollution. The district court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the pipeline has been repaired and the pollutants currently pass through groundwater to reach “navigable waters.” The Fourth Circuit vacated. Citizens may bring suit under 33 U.S.C. 1365(a) for discharges of pollutants that derive from a “point source,” defined as “any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, [or] container” and continue to be “added” to navigable waters. Plaintiffs have stated a valid claim for a discharge under the Act. View "Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P." on Justia Law

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