Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma
In 2003, JCJIC proposed a 312-unit apartment complex on 15.45 acres of vacant land along the Petaluma River. In 2008, after starting a draft environmental impact report (DEIR), for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), Petaluma adopted General Plan 2025. In response, JCJIC submitted an application for a 278-unit complex. After conducting site visits, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service identified the issues the EIR should address. A “Habitat Mitigation Monitoring Plan” was incorporated. In 2018, the DEIR was published. JCJIC provided consultant studies regarding environmental impacts, including on “Special Status Species.” The Planning Commission considered traffic impacts, floodplain impacts, and decreased quality of neighborhood life. City Council members requested supplemental documentation and authorized the preparation of a final EIR. JCJIC further reduced the proposal to 205 units; reduced the height of buildings; increased setbacks from the River; and implement a “Traffic Calming Plan.” The Final EIR concluded the revisions eliminated or reduced several potential significant impacts. In 2020, JCJIC submitted another plan with 180 units.Objectors disputed the adequacy of the EIR’s special status species analysis and failure to analyze emergency evacuations. The City Council certified the EIR and approved zoning amendments. The trial court and court of appeal upheld the approvals. View "Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma" on Justia Law
Am. Chemistry Council v. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control
This case involves an appeal and cross-appeal following the trial court’s determination that the Department of Toxic Substances Control (the Department) acted within its authority and properly complied with the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA; Gov. Code, Section 11340 et seq.) but violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, Section 21000 et seq.) when it enacted a regulation listing spray polyurethane foam systems containing unreacted methylene diphenyl diisocyanates (spray foam systems) as a priority product under California’s “Green Chemistry” law. Appellants, in this case, American Chemistry Council (ACC) and General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. (General Coatings) challenge the Department’s actions on two grounds. First, listing spray foam systems as a priority product was in excess of the Department’s authority under the Green Chemistry law. Second, the Department violated the APA in multiple ways when enacting the listing regulation. The Fifth Appellate District reversed the trial court’s finding of a CEQA violation on the ground that the claim was untimely under the statute of limitations. The court held that the judgment is affirmed with respect to the first, second, and third causes of action seeking relief based on allegations the Department exceeded its authority through the listing determination and allegations the Department violated the APA. The judgment is reversed with respect to the fourth cause of action, under CEQA, and remanded with instructions that the trial court dismiss the claim as untimely. View "Am. Chemistry Council v. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control" on Justia Law
Nw. Pulp & Paper Ass’n. v. Dep’t of Ecology
In 2018, the Washington Department of Ecology (Department) revised its Water Quality Program Permit Writer’s Manual to add a new section addressing methods permit writers could use to identify and measure polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) discharged into Washington waters. This specific revision was challenged on the grounds it constituted rule making outside the Washington Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Washington Supreme Court determined the manual revision was not a rule for the purposes of the APA because it merely guided permit writers, who had discretion to choose test methods on a case-by-case basis, and did not require the uniform application of a standard to an entire class of entities who discharged PCBs. View "Nw. Pulp & Paper Ass'n. v. Dep't of Ecology" on Justia Law
Save Our Capitol v. Dept. of General Services
Defendant Department of General Services and real party Joint Committee on Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly (collectively DGS) prepared an environmental impact report (EIR) to determine the environmental effects of a project they proposed that would "significantly" affect the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento (Historic Capitol). Plaintiffs Save Our Capitol! and Save the Capitol, Save the Trees filed petitions for writ of mandate contending the EIR did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court denied the petitions. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing: (1) the EIR lacked a stable project description; (2) the EIR did not adequately analyze and mitigate the project’s impacts on cultural resources, biological resources, aesthetics, traffic, and utilities and service systems; (3) the EIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project was legally deficient; and (4) DGS violated CEQA by not recirculating the EIR a second time before certifying it. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part. The Court found the EIR’s project description, analyses of historical resources and aesthetics, and analysis of alternatives did not comply with CEQA. View "Save Our Capitol v. Dept. of General Services" on Justia Law
Otter Creek Solar, LLC, et al. v. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al.
Plaintiffs, the developer of a solar electric generation facility and the owner of the project site, appealed the dismissal of their complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). Plaintiffs sought a ruling that two guidance documents and a plant-classification system created by ANR were unlawful and therefore could not be relied upon by ANR or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in determining whether to issue a certificate of public good for a proposed facility under 30 V.S.A. § 248. The civil division granted ANR’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the guidance documents and classification system were not rules and did not have the force of law, and that the proper forum to challenge the policies was in the PUC proceeding. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Otter Creek Solar, LLC, et al. v. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al." on Justia Law
Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates
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
Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist.
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
Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc.
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
GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd.
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
USA v. F.E.B. Corp.
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