Monday, September 24, 2012

Native Village Of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp.

Sep 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 09-17490. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. In this high profile case dealing with climate change, the Native Village of Kivalina and the City of Kivalina (collectively Kivalina) appeal the district court's dismissal of their action for damages against multiple oil, energy, and utility companies (collectively Energy Producers).
    The 22 Energy Producers include: (1) ExxonMobil Corporation; (2) BP P.L.C.; (3) BP America, Inc.; (4) BP Products North America, Inc.; (5) Chevron Corporation; (6) Chevron U.S.A., Inc.; (7) Conocophillips Company; (8) Royal Dutch Shell PLC; (9) Shell Oil Company; (10) Peabody Energy Corporation; (11) The AES Corporation; (12) American Electric Power Company, Inc.; (13) American Electric Power Services Corporation; (14) Duke Energy Corporation; (15) DTE Energy Company; (16) Edison International; (17) Midamerican Energy Holdings Company; (18) Pinnacle West Capital Corporation; (19) The Southern Company; (20) Dynegy Holdings, Inc.; (21) Xcel Energy, Inc.; (22) Genon Energy, Inc.

    Kivalina alleges that massive greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the Energy Producers have resulted in global warming, which, in turn, has severely eroded the land where the City of Kivalina sits and threatens it with imminent destruction. Kivalina seeks damages under a Federal common law claim of public nuisance. The Appeals Court summarizes its position saying, "The question before us is whether the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action that the Act authorizes, displaces Kivalina's claims. We hold that it does."

    The City of Kivalina sits on the tip of a six-mile barrier reef on the northwest coast of Alaska, approximately seventy miles north of the Arctic Circle. The city, which was incorporated as a unified municipality under Alaska state law in 1969, has long been home to members of the Village of Kivalina, a self-governing, federally recognized tribe of Inupiat Native Alaskans. The City of Kivalina has a population of approximately four hundred residents, ninety-seven percent of whom are Alaska Natives. Kivalina's survival has been threatened by erosion resulting from wave action and sea storms for several decades.
    Kivalina filed this action against the Energy Producers, both individually and collectively, in District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that the Energy Producers, as substantial contributors to global warming, are responsible for its injuries. Kivalina argued that the Energy Producers' emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, by contributing to global warming, constitute a substantial and unreasonable interference with public rights, including the rights to use and enjoy public and private property in Kivalina. Kivalina's complaint also charged the Energy Producers with acting in concert to create, contribute to, and maintain global warming and with conspiring to mislead the public about the science of global warming.
    The Energy Producers argued that Kivalina's allegations raise inherently nonjusticiable political questions because to adjudicate
its claims, the court would have to determine the point at which greenhouse gas emissions become excessive without guidance from the political branches. They also asserted that Kivalina lacked Article III standing to raise its claims because Kivalina alleged no facts showing that its injuries are "fairly traceable" to the actions of the Energy Producers.
    The district court held that the political question doctrine precluded judicial consideration of Kivalina's federal public nuisance claim. The court found that there was insufficient guidance as to the principles or standards that should be employed to resolve the claims at issue. The court also determined that resolution of Kivalina's nuisance claim would require determining what would have been an acceptable limit on the level of greenhouse gases emitted by the Energy Producers and who should bear the cost of global warming. Both of these issues, the court concluded, were matters more appropriately left for determination by the executive or legislative branch in the first instance.
    The district court also held that Kivalina lacked standing under Article III to bring a public nuisance suit. The court also concluded that, given the remoteness of its injury claim, Kivalina could not establish that it was within sufficient geographic proximity to the Energy Producers' alleged "excessive" discharge of greenhouse cases to infer causation. Finally, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.
    The Appeals Court explains, ". . .the right to assert a federal common law public nuisance claim has limits. Claims can be brought under federal common law for public nuisance only when the courts are 'compelled to consider federal questions which cannot be answered from federal statutes alone.' [citing: City of Milwaukee v. Illinois (Milwaukee II), 451 U.S. 304, 314 (1981)] . . . If Congress has addressed a federal issue by statute, then there is no gap for federal common law to fill. . . 'The test for whether congressional legislation excludes the declaration of federal common law is simply whether the statute speak[s] directly to [the] question at issue.'  [citing: American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut (AEP), 131 S. Ct. (2011)]." [See WIMS 6/20/11].
    The Appeals Court indicates, "We need not engage in that complex issue and fact specific analysis in this case, because we have direct Supreme Court guidance. The Supreme Court has already determined that Congress has directly addressed the issue of domestic greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources and has therefore displaced federal common law. [again citing: AEP]
     The majority Appeals Court concludes, "In sum, the Supreme Court has held that federal common law addressing domestic greenhouse gas emissions has been displaced by Congressional action. That determination displaces federal common law public nuisance actions seeking damages, as well as those actions seeking injunctive relief. The civil conspiracy claim falls with the substantive claim. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the district court. We need not, and do not, reach any other issue urged by the parties. Our conclusion obviously does not aid Kivalina, which itself is being displaced by the rising sea. But the solution to Kivalina's dire circumstance must rest in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of our government, not the federal common law."
    In a lengthy, separate concurring opinion, one justice indicates, "The majority opinion holds that the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action the Act authorizes displace Kivalina's claims. I write separately to address what I view as tension in Supreme Court authority on whether displacement of a claim for injunctive relief necessarily calls for displacement of a damages claim, and to more fully explain why I concur in the majority opinion's ultimate conclusion. I also write separately to express my view that Kivalina lacks standing."
    Access the complete opinion and separate concurring opinion (click here). [#Climate, #Air, #Energy, #CA9]
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Native Ecosystems Council v. Weldon (Forest Service)

Sep 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 11-35659. Appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Montana. The Appeals Court explains that this case arises out of Native Ecosystems Council's (Native Ecosystems Council) appeal of the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States Forest Service (Forest Service) in an action regarding the Ettien Ridge Fuels Reduction Project (the Project) in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, located in Montana. The Project was designed to reduce the spread and intensity of potential future wildfires in the Judith Basin County Wildland-Urban Interface by removing naturally occurring wildfire fuels. Native Ecosystems Council alleges that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) when it issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and Decision Notice approving the Project.
    The Appeals Court ruled, "We hold that the Forest Service took the requisite 'hard look' at the environmental impact of the Project on the elk hiding cover, and goshawk populations, in the manner required by NEPA. . . We further hold that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the Forest Service on Native Ecosystems Council's NFMA claims, because the Forest Service reasonably considered the 'relevant factors' that could have impacted the elk hiding cover and goshawk populations in its analysis of the Project. Accordingly, we affirm."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #CA9]
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Wolfsen Land & Cattle Co. v. Pacific Coast Federation

Sep 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, Case No. 2011-5113. Appealed from the United States Court of Federal Claims. The case involves a takings claim arising from the government's releases of water from a dam in central California. Downstream property owners sued in the Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the releases unlawfully impaired their property rights in the water and inundated their land.

    The Appeals Court indicates, "The government had released the water in accordance with a consent order entered by a district court and expressly approved by Congress. The consent order was the result of environmental litigation pursued over a number of years by certain groups interested in the ecological fate of the river. After the present lawsuit was filed, two of these groups moved to intervene as of right, arguing that this case implicated their interests. The Court of Federal Claims denied their motion, finding that the groups' interests were sufficiently aligned with the government's as to create no foundation for intervention. Wolfsen Land & Cattle Co. v. United States, 98 Fed. Cl. 507 (May 24, 2011) (Fed. Cl. Op.). We affirm."

    The case background started in 1942, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dammed the upper San Joaquin River near Friant, California. Friant Dam, which still operates today, generates electricity and collects water for agriculture. But it also caused portions of the river below to dry up, leading to the extermination of Chinook salmon and other species from areas they had previously occupied, as well as other ecological consequences.

    In 1988, a group of plaintiffs sued the federal government over the dam's operation. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Natural Resources Defense Council (collectively, PCFFA) were among them. They claimed that the dam's operation contravened various state and Federal environmental protection laws. For the next eighteen years, the parties litigated in the district court for the Eastern District of California. In 2006, they finally reached a settlement and releases have continued since, in accordance with the Litigation Settlement and the Settlement Act.

    In the Wolfsen case, PCFFA moved to intervene and was denied and appealed. The Federal Circuit indicates, "This court has not previously identified the standard to be applied when reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to intervene as of right. . . Both sides cite authority from the regional circuits, which are split on the question [the various cases are citied]. The majority Appeals Court rules, "We find it unnecessary to reach this question, as we see no error in the Court of Federal Claims' judgment. Cf. Am. Mar. Transp., Inc. v. United States, 870 F.2d 1559, 1561 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (finding no need to reach this issue in similar circumstances). We would affirm under both proposed standards of review. Because the question of the standard to apply is non-dispositive, we need not address it."
    The Court of Federal Claims ruled: First, the court held that PCFFA had failed to show a direct, non-contingent interest in this case. . . Second, the court held that even if PCFFA had alleged a protectable interest, the interest did not relate to this case in such a way that failure to permit intervention would impede PCFFA's ability to protect itself. . . Third, the court held that even if PCFFA had a protectable interest, and even if that interest related to this case in the manner contemplated by the rule, PCFFA's interests were adequately protected by the government's participation in this case. The majority Appeals Court ruled, "As set forth below, we agree, and on that basis affirm."
    In a separate, concurring decision, one Justice indicated, "I concur that the district court did not err in denying PCFFA's motion to intervene as a matter of right. I write separately because I do not agree that the United States -- which opposed PCFFA for years in related litigation -- can be presumed to adequately represent PCFFA in this case. . . At best, the majority has confused litigation goals with legal interests; at worst, it has unnecessarily introduced a new presumption into our cases, raising an additional bar against intervention in cases in which the government is a party."
    Access the complete opinion and separate concurrence (click here). [#Water, #CAFed]
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