Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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This appeal centered whether Section 6 of the California Constitution required the state to reimburse the defendant local governments (collectively permittees or copermittees) for costs they incurred to satisfy conditions which the state imposed on their stormwater discharge permit. Defendant-respondent Commission on State Mandates (the Commission) determined that six of the eight permit conditions challenged in this action were reimbursable state mandates. They required permittees to provide a new program. Permittees also did not have sufficient legal authority to levy a fee for those conditions because doing so required preapproval by the voters. The Commission also determined that the other two conditions requiring the development and implementation of environmental mitigation plans for certain new development were not reimbursable state mandates. Permittees had authority to levy a fee for those conditions. On petitions for writ of administrative mandate, the trial court upheld the Commission’s decision in its entirety and denied the petitions. Plaintiffs, cross-defendants and appellants State Department of Finance, the State Water Resources Board, and the Regional Water Quality Board, San Diego Region (collectively the State) appealed, contending the six permit conditions found to be reimbursable state mandates were not mandates because the permit did not require permittees to provide a new program and permittees had authority to levy fees for those conditions without obtaining voter approval. Except to hold that the street sweeping condition was not a reimburseable mandate, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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Appellants Bull Field, LLC, Barley, LLC and Colburn Hills Ranch, LLC (Appellants) appeal from a judgment denying their petition for a writ of mandate (Petition). Appellants sought an order compelling respondent Merced Irrigation District (District) to sell them surplus surface water for the 2019 water year. Appellants’ farmland is outside the District, but within the same groundwater basin as the District’s service area. The District authorized the sale of surplus water to out-of-district users for 2019 but denied Appellants’ application to purchase such water. The District claimed, and the trial court found, that the District’s general manager denied Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus surface water because the District had a history of difficult dealings with Appellants’ manager. Substantial evidence supports that finding.   The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that District acted within its discretion in making its decision on this ground. The court explained that the court may not interfere with the District’s discretionary decision that denying Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus water was in its best interest. The court may not substitute its judgment for the District about how its interests would best be served. So long as the District actually exercised such discretion, this court may not issue a writ contravening the District’s decision. View "Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law

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In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facilities Siting Board approving a project change petition filed by NSTAR Electric Company, doing business as Eversource Energy, that would move the boundaries of an electric substation 190 feet from the location that had previously been approved, holding that the Board did not err in approving the project change.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Board did not err in determining that GreenRoots, Inc. did not satisfy the applicable legal standard for the reopening of a completed adjudicatory proceeding; (2) the Board complied with the statutory and regulatory requirements regarding public participation and environmental justice; and (3) the Board's conclusion that Eversource reasonably addressed risks from future sea level rise under the circumstances was supported by substantial evidence. View "GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law

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After Wisteria Island’s birth, Congress ceded title to all lands within three miles of the United States’s coast to the states, except for lands that were (1) “built up,” “filled in,” “or otherwise reclaimed” (2) by the United States (3) for the United States’s use. We must determine whether Wisteria Island satisfies this exception. Only the third requirement is at issue in this appeal: whether the United States created Wisteria Island for its “use.” Plaintiff-Counterdefendant-Appellee United States says that it created Wisteria Island to store dredged soil. Defendant-Counterclaimant-Appellant F.E.B., which claims to own the island, rejects the United States’s assertion that it built Wisteria Island for its “use.” According to F.E.B., the island arose simply as a result of the United States’s discarding of the soil it dredged from the channel.   The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the United States that, if it created Wisteria Island as a place to store dredged soil, then the United States built up or filled in Wisteria Island for the United States’s use. But on this record, the court found a genuine issue of material fact exists as to why the United States created the island. So after a thorough review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, the court affirmed in part and vacate in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the United States and denial of summary judgment to F.E.B., and remanded this case for a factual determination of why the United States created Wisteria Island. View "USA v. F.E.B. Corp." on Justia Law

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The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) brought these actions under Proposition 65 (Prop. 65) against Respondents, dozens of companies that roast, distribute, or sell coffee. CERT claimed that Respondents had failed to provide required Prop. 65 warnings for their coffee products based on the presence of acrylamide. While the litigation was pending, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (the Agency) adopted a new regulation providing that “exposures to chemicals in coffee, listed on or before March 15, 2019, as known to the state to cause cancer, that are created by and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee do not pose a significant risk of cancer.”   CERT moved for summary adjudication, challenging the regulation’s validity on various grounds. In opposing summary judgment, CERT also contended that regardless of the regulation, triable issues remained regarding the presence of acrylamide resulting from additives. CERT challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for Respondents, its denial of its motion for fees, and its award of section 998.   The Second Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment and denying attorney fees. The court reversed the order denying CERT’s motion to tax costs. The court explained that Respondents’ assertion ignores claims beyond the scope of CERT’s actions that were to be released under the offers. Given that the proposed releases in section 998 offers covered this and other potential claims, the trial court could not have determined that the offers were more favorable than the judgment. Thus, the offers were invalid for purposes of section 998. View "Council for Education and Research etc. v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law

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G.I. Industries, doing business as Waste Management (WM), provided solid waste management for the City of Thousand Oaks (City). The City was considering entering into a new exclusive solid waste franchise agreement with Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. doing business as Athens Services (Athens). A supplemental item was posted giving notice of the staff’s recommendation that the City find the agreement to be exempt from CEQA. Prior to the commencement of litigation under the Brown Act, WM sent the City a “cure and correct” letter. WM petitioned the trial court for a writ of mandate directing the City to vacate both its approval of the franchise agreement and its finding that the project is exempt from CEQA. Athens was joined as the real party in interest. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. The court agreed with WM that the CEQA exemption is an item of business separate from the approval of the franchise agreement. The court also concluded that the Brown Act does not apply.   The Second Appellate District reversed the finding that the trial court erred when it entered judgment. Section 54954.2 of the Brown Act, requires this CEQA finding of exemption to be listed on the agency’s agenda for its public meeting. The purpose of section 54960.1, subdivision (b) is to give the local agency notice of an alleged violation of the Brown Act so that it can avoid litigation by curing the violation. Here, the City council voted that the project is exempt, without the public notice required by the Brown Act. WM’s cure and correct letter adequately stated that point. View "G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks" on Justia Law

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In response to President Biden's Executive Order 13990, the State of Missouri and twelve other States ("the States") then filed this action against President Biden, the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases and other agencies, asserting four causes of action: (1)“Violation of the Separation of Powers;” (2) “Violation of Agency Statutes;” (3)“Procedural Violation of the APA”; and (4) “Substantive Violation of the APA.”The district court concluded the States lack Article III standing and their claims are not ripe for adjudication, granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction as moot. The States appealed.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that the States' request for the court to grant injunctive relief that directs “the current administration to comply with prior administrations’ policies on regulatory analysis [without] a specific agency action to review,” is “outside the authority of the federal courts” under Article III of the Constitution. View "State of Missouri v. Joseph Biden, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s own written decision indicated the EPA concluded that the statutory and regulatory definitions of “small refinery” did not provide specific “guidance []or limits” on how the terms “refinery” and “average aggregate daily crude oil throughput” should have been “evaluated.” Accordingly, the EPA proceeded as though it “ha[d] discretion to choose what factors and information it w[ould] consider in this evaluation.” The EPA’s decisions to deny an extension of a temporary exemption to “small refineries” from complying with the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program were reversed and remanded. "That does not mean that the EPA could not again arrive at the same conclusion. But, to do so, the EPA would need to (a) either consider and apply its own regulatory definition of “facility” to the circumstances presented here or explain why that regulatory definition is inapplicable, (b) provide clear guidance on its integration analysis, to the extent it continues to rely on that factor, and (c) omit any consideration of Suncor’s management structure or public statements unless it can demonstrate that those factors are somehow consistent with, and have a reasonable connection to, the statutory and regulatory definitions of the term “refinery.” View "Suncor Energy v. EPA" on Justia Law

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For almost 60 years, Schnitzer has operated a scrap-metal shredding and recycling facility. The Department of Toxic Substances Control acquired regulatory authority over metal-shredding facilities in the 1980s and issued Schnitzer certification under Code of Regulations, title 22, section 66260.200 2 (an (f) letter)--a conditional nonhazardous waste classification, allowing Schnitzer to handle and dispose of its treated metal-shredder waste as nonhazardous although the material otherwise meets the state’s definition of hazardous waste. In 2014, the Hazardous Waste Control Law (HWCL) Health & Safety Code 25150.82, specifically addressed metal-shredding facilities.The trial court concluded that section 25150.82 imposed a mandatory duty on the Department to rescind the (f) letters, such that Schnitzer must handle its treated metal-shredder waste as hazardous. The court of appeal reversed. After the adoption of section 25150.82, the Department commissioned a study, addressing environmental problems associated with metal shredding. Based on that study, the Department initiated regulatory actions aimed at metal-shredding facilities and their untreated waste. Metal shredders must comply with the HWCL but the study confirmed that once metal-shredding waste has been appropriately treated, it can be safely handled and disposed of as non-hazardous. Schnitzer’s (f) letter authorizing this practice was issued under an HWCL regulation, and there is no basis for concluding it does not comply with the HWCL. View "Athletics Investment Group, LLC v. Department of Toxic Substances Control" on Justia Law