Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Nov 23: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 08-36038, appealed from the District of Oregon. The Appeals Court explains that in March 2008, the National Marine Fisheries Service
(NMFS) authorized the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to kill up to 85 California sea lions annually at Bonneville Dam. NMFS made the decision under section 120 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which allows "the intentional lethal taking of individually identifiable pinnipeds which are having a significant negative impact on the decline or recovery of salmonid fishery stocks" that have been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 16 U.S.C. § 1389(b)(1).The Appeals Court said, "We must decide whether the agency's action was 'arbitrary' or 'capricious' within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), as well as whether the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement.
Following its analysis, the Appeals Court ruled, "We affirm summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiffs' NEPA claim. We reverse summary judgment on plaintiffs' MMPA claim and remand to the district court with instructions to vacate the decision of NMFS and remand to NMFS. We vacate the district court's order granting defendants' motion to strike. Each party shall bear its own costs on appeal."
Access the complete opinion (click here).
Posted by JPMcJ at 4:23 PM
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Nov 17: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Case No. 09-3277. The Appeals Court explains the background of the case as follows: On the afternoon of September 6, 2004, boys stole two bottles of mercury from an abandoned building, took this hazardous substance to a playground near the Rosemount Woods mobile home park, and released it while playing. Before police from the City of Rosemount, Minnesota were notified and arrived at the scene, people, homes, and vehicles were contaminated. Police officers knocked on doors to identify those who had been exposed, and the City contacted state and local agencies to help deal with the environmental and public health emergency. The Special Operations Team (SOT), a disaster response unit created by an agreement between Dakota County and eleven cities including Rosemount, arrived at about 9:00 p.m. and set up a decontamination tent.
Shortly after 11:00 p.m., the SOT began decontaminating forty-nine persons who had been exposed to mercury, including plaintiff and others, who are deaf. The next day, nurses from the Dakota County Department of Public Health began attending to the victims' health, housing, and financial needs. The victims were provided temporary housing while their quarantined homes were decontaminated. By the end of the month, the health and environmental hazards were successfully abated.
One year later, plaintiffs filed a discrimination suit saying defendants "failed to provide ASL [American Sign Language] interpreters . . . for all of the services they were providing to the public."
At the close of discovery, the district court granted Dakota County's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Plaintiffs received "effective communication, and therefore meaningful access to the programs and services offered during three relevant periods: (1) the emergency decontamination process; (2) public group meetings between victims and representatives of various government agencies conducted the following week; and (3) additional private meetings between Dakota County Public Health Nurse Gerilee Greeley and individual plaintiffs."
The Appeals Court affirmed the district court decision and said in part, " . . . as we have explained, the legal standard is effective communication that results in meaningful access to government services. There is no evidence that Plaintiffs failed to obtain any service because Nurse Greeley's advice or assistance was not understood, and no evidence Nurse Greeley ignored a specific request for more effective communication or refused a specific request for an ASL interpreter. . ."
Posted by JPMcJ at 3:38 PM
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Nov 9: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, Case No. 09-4122, 23, & 24. The issue in this case is whether the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste allows its member states to exclude low-level radioactive waste from disposal at a Utah site. EnergySolutions is the owner and operator of a facility for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste located in Clive, Utah. Utah is a member state of the Northwest Compact, and required EnergySolutions to obtain permission pursuant to the Compact for the importation and disposal of low-level waste from a decommissioned reactor in Italy.
The member states, including Utah, voted to deny this approval, based on exclusionary authority it claimed through the Federal statute approving the terms of the Compact. EnergySolutions contends the Clive Facility should not be subject to the authority of the Northwest Compact. It claims the Compact has limited authority only over regional disposal facilities, which does not include the Clive Facility. The district court concluded the Northwest Compact does not regulate the disposal of waste at the Clive Facility.
The Appeals Court disagreed and said, "The terms of the Compact control in this situation, and the member states were within the bounds of their authority when they denied permission regarding this waste." In its conclusion the appeals Court ruled, "
Like the Supreme Court, we are hesitant to 'order relief inconsistent with the express terms of a compact.' Alabama, 130 S. Ct. at 2313 (quoting New Jersey v. New York, 523 U.S. 767, 811 (1998)) (internal punctuation omitted). Concluding the Northwest Compact is statutorily and constitutionally permitted to exercise exclusionary authority over the Clive Facility, we reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Posted by JPMcJ at 4:27 PM
Nov 9: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, Case No. 09-1268. As the Appeals Court explains, under § 274 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 as amended, Pub. L. 86-373, 73 Stat. 688 (1959) (AEA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is authorized to transfer regulatory authority over various categories of nuclear materials within a state to the state government, provided that the state's regulatory program is "compatible with the [NRC's] program" and is "adequate to protect the public health and safety." Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corporation, which for a decade has been seeking NRC approval for a plan to decommission a New Jersey facility, challenges the NRC's recent transfer of regulatory authority to that state, arguing that New Jersey's program is incompatible with the Federal scheme and that the transfer of authority was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." The Appeals Court agreed with the company.
The Appeals Court said, ". . .the NRC's insufficient explanations on the applicability of criterion 25 [commitment to the uninterrupted "processing of license applications"] and the retention of jurisdiction render its transfer of regulatory authority to New Jersey arbitrary and capricious. We therefore grant Shieldalloy's petition, vacate the NRC's transfer of authority, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Posted by JPMcJ at 4:26 PM
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Nov 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 09-16914. Earth Island Institute (Earth Island) appealed interlocutorily the district court's order denying its motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin the United States Forest Service (USFS) from conducting post-wildfire logging in the Plumas National Forest. The district court concluded: that the applicable forest plan required only the assessment of habitat for the black-backed woodpecker (woodpecker) at the project level; that the Forest Service met that requirement; that the Forest Service adequately responded to Earth Island's dissenting scientific opinions in the project adoption phases; and that the Forest Service's tree mortality guidelines were not legally enforceable. In a split decision, the Appeals Court majority affirmed the district courts decision.
The majority concluded, "In short, the district court used the correct standard for analyzing Earth Island's likelihood of success on the merits and did not abuse its discretion in finding that Earth Island failed to show that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its NFMA claims. . . the district court correctly analyzed the likelihood of irreparable harm in sufficient depth without impermissibly conflating this with the other required factors. . . The court concluded that if the injunction was granted, the public would lose the immediate benefits of the reforestation efforts. It did not abuse its discretion in doing so."
In a dissenting opinion, one of the Justices said, "The majority's denial of a preliminary injunction, like the district court's before it, rests on two fundamental errors. First, the majority concludes that the Forest Service has no obligation to ensure species viability in the Plumas National Forest despite numerous clear statements to the contrary in the Plumas National Forest Plan. Second, it concludes that the RHT Hazard Tree Marking Guidelines are not binding on the Forest Service despite the fact that the Forest Service itself acknowledges that they are. The district court rested its denial of a preliminary injunction almost entirely on its erroneous conclusions regarding Earth Island's likelihood of success on the merits. I would therefore grant a temporary injunction and remand to the district court to reconsider Earth Island's application. . ."
Posted by JPMcJ at 4:21 PM
Nov 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, Case No. 09-1474. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) appealed an injunction requiring it to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for reclamation efforts at abandoned coal mining sites. The injunction was based on the district court's conclusion that the plain language of the CWA and applicable U.S. EPA regulations require such a permit. The Appeals Court said the trial court's ruling was correct.
The text of the CWA, as well as the corresponding regulations issued by EPA, confirm that the permit requirements apply to anyone who discharges pollutants into the waters of the United States. The Appeals Court said, "Under the CWA, it does not matter that a mining company may have created the conditions that call for reclamation. What matters is that an entity, private or public, is currently discharging pollutants into the waters of the United States. In fact, the statute contains no exceptions for state agencies engaging in reclamation efforts; to the contrary, it explicitly includes them within its scope. At bottom, WVDEP's arguments stem from little more than policy disagreements with the statutory text. Finding that to be an insufficient basis for deviating from the law as written, we affirm the judgment of the district court."
The Appeals Court states further in its conclusion, "In sum, WVDEP's state law obligations to take over bond forfeiture sites and engage in reclamation efforts invoke Clean Water Act obligations to obtain NPDES permits. Permit requirements are often, and sometimes understandably, a source of discomfort for those required to obtain them. If so, West Virginia can attempt to ease the burdens it foresees. It can petition Congress or the EPA to create exceptions to the CWA for states that move to ameliorate the problems private companies leave behind. Or WVDEP can address the other side of the equation and increase the funds available for reclamation, either by raising the SRF tax on coal or enlarging the bonds mining companies must post before beginning their work. Instead of availing itself of these various options, however, WVDEP asks us to bring about the very same results by misconstruing the Clean Water Act. There are better audiences for that invitation. We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court."
Posted by JPMcJ at 4:20 PM
Monday, November 8, 2010
Nov 5: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 08-74872. Petitioner Akiak Native Community and other petitioners and intervenors (collectively Petitioners or Akiak) seek review of the approval by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the State of Alaska's application to assume responsibility for administration of portions of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), pursuant to section 402(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Petitioners contend that EPA did not adequately ensure: (1) that Alaska state law will provide the same opportunities for judicial review of permitting decisions as required by federal law; (2) that the State has the necessary enforcement tools to abate permit violations; and, (3) that subsistence resources will be protected as mandated by the Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
In a split decision, the Appeals Court majority said, "We conclude that the EPA's decision to transfer authority to the State of Alaska was not arbitrary or capricious. Accordingly, we deny the petition for review." In part, the majority said, " The Supreme Court's recent decision in Home Builders [National Association of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife (No. 06-340), See WIMS 6/26/07] provides guidance as to whether the EPA's transfer of the NPDES program to the State of Alaska triggers the requirement of a subsistence evaluation under ANILCA. In Home Builders, public interest groups challenged the EPA's transfer of the NPDES program to the State of Arizona, arguing that the EPA failed to consider the effects such transfer would have on endangered and threatened species under section 7(a) of the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a). 551 U.S. at 649. The Supreme Court held that requiring the EPA to comply with section 7(a) of the ESA would place the CWA and the ESA in conflict, for it would add a tenth criteria to the nine established criteria a state program must meet for transfer approval under section 402(b) of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1342(b). Id. at 663-64. The Court noted that '§ 402(b) does not just set forth minimum requirements for the transfer of permitting authority; it affirmatively mandates that the transfer "shall" be approved if the specified criteria are met.' Id. at 663. The Court concluded that requiring compliance with section 7(a) would "effectively repeal § 402(b)'s statutory mandate by engrafting a tenth criterion onto the CWA."
The dissenting (in part) decision said, "I agree that the ANILCA provision and the lack of administrative penalties in Alaska law do not undermine the grant of NPDES authority from the EPA to the State of Alaska, but I strongly disagree with the majority's conclusion that Alaska's 'loser pays' attorney's fee system will not adversely affect the public's ability to bring state court challenges to permitting decisions."
Posted by JPMcJ at 4:24 PM