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iStock-482487681-maijuana-tax-300x200As noted in a prior post, the affordable housing industry is struggling to make ends meet after equity pricing took a dive in response to the decreased corporate tax rate under President Trump’s tax reform plan. While some reprieve was granted by the increases in tax credit allocations and appropriations for affordable housing programs under the 2018 federal spending plan, developers are still struggling to fill funding gaps. One city is proposing a creative way to funnel more money toward affordable housing: On April 16, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock proposed a 2% increase in the special tax on recreational marijuana, with the additional revenue generated to be earmarked for the City’s affordable housing fund.

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iStock-183575355-law-marijuana-300x201The cannabis industry–both recreational and medicinal–is one of constant development, with a litany of obstacles. Even since December of last year when we began our series on the legalization of marijuana and its correlation to the real estate industry, new wrinkles have emerged, which may have an effect on future cannabis real estate deals.

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Recent federal court rulings illustrate how the courts are serving as an umpire sometimes restraining the government and litigants.

On April 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a ruling, in Kuehl, et al., v. Sellner, et al., affirming the District Court’s decision which held that the defendants had violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in their operation of the Cricket Hollow Zoo (a licensed facility), located in Manchester, IA. The plaintiffs, which included the Animal Legal Defense Fund, sued the Sellners alleging that the conditions in which some endangered species (lemurs and tigers) were housed in the zoo amounted to a mistreatment of these endangered species.

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Section 40416 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 temporarily reinstates the Oil Spill Liability Tax that expired on December 31, 2017 for the period beginning on March 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018. Section 4611 of the Internal Revenue Code has, for many years, imposed a tax of $0.09 cents per barrel on crude oil received at a refinery, and on petroleum products entered into the U.S. for consumption, use, or warehousing.

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Accelerating air permitting decisions will be very helpful to almost everyone in business. An important Presidential environmental policy memorandum dated April 12, 2018 directing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take specific actions to ensure efficient and cost-effective implementation of the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS, pronounced \’naks\) program, including permitting decisions for new and expanded facilities, and with respect to the Regional Haze Program, was published in the April 16, 2018 edition of the Federal Register.

Briefly, the memo, acknowledgrd that the periodic statutory review of the NAAQS for the “criteria pollutants” (ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, lead and carbon monoxide) has resulted in delayed Clean Air Act State Implementation Plan (SIP) reviews and has also had the effect of making the processing of preconstruction permits to construct new manufacturing facilities or their modification much more difficult.

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On April 9, 2018, the heads of twelve Federal agencies and departments entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) committing their respective agencies to implement certain concepts and directives from Executive Order (“EO”) 13807,[1] the Trump administration’s effort to streamline environmental review and approval of major infrastructure projects. The signatory agencies are the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, as well as the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. These agencies frequently are involved in large-scale, complex infrastructure projects, such as traditional and renewable energy facilities and interstate pipelines; highway and bridge improvements, and transportation projects. While much of the MOU recites requirements previously set forth in the EO, it adds details and deadlines regarding interagency coordination, communication and dispute resolution in order to carry out the EO’s “One Federal Decision” concept and the goal of completing environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) within two years.

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affordable housingOn March 23, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, a $1.3 trillion spending package that includes a 12.5% increase in low-income housing tax credit allocations over the next four years, along with funding increases for several affordable housing programs. This is welcome news to affordable housing developers who have been facing funding gaps as a result of reductions in the corporate tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in late 2017, which led to reduced pricing from equity investors.

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On April 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a unanimous opinion, rejected the challenges to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) decision to issue a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit to the Newhall Land and Farming Company (Newhall), which is planning a large residential and commercial project in Los Angeles County near Santa Clarita, CA (the Newhall Ranch project). The Newhall Ranch project, which involves the discharge of dredge and fill materials into the Santa Clara River, has been scaled back and modified, and the Ninth Circuit held that it is consistent with the CWA, the Corps’ regulations and procedures, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Ninth Circuit provides an excellent primer on the Section 404 permitting process. The case is Friends of the Santa Clara River v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decided the case of Kirk v. Schaeffler Group USA, Inc., et al., a personal injury action commenced in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri alleging injury resulting from the release of thousands of gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE) at the FAG Bearings Corporation’s (FAG Bearings) facility in Joplin, MO. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s judicial estoppel ruling on the successor liability issue and concluded that the jury’s verdict on compensatory damages stands but their general verdict requires a new trial on Plaintiff’s punitive damages claim against FAG Bearings.

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On March 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decided the case of Californians for Renewable Energy, et al., v. EPA. The plaintiffs, public interest organizations located in several states, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) complaining that EPA failed to act on anything like a timely basis on their administrative complaints. EPA argued that the case should be dismissed because of (a) improper venue; (b) lack of standing; and (c) mootness. The District Court rejected these arguments, and denied EPA’s motion to dismiss and granted the plaintiffs’ and EPA’s motion for summary judgment, each in part. However, the District Court reserved judgment until the parties had an opportunity to meet and confer on the outstanding issues and then advise the court where things stand.

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