Articles Posted in Environmental

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This is a brief account of some of the important environmental and administrative law cases recently decided.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

BP PLC, et al. v Mayor and City of Baltimore
The issue the court confronted was a procedural matter: Can the defendant energy companies use the federal removal statutes (see 28 USC Section 1442) to remove a state law climate change lawsuit to federal court? Here, a group of energy companies were sued by the mayor and city council of Baltimore in state court, where they alleged that the defendants had concealed the adverse environmental effects of the fossil fuel products they promoted and sold in Baltimore City. Several similar lawsuits have been filed in many state courts, where typically it is alleged that the defendants can be sued on various common law theories. Rather than defend these cases in state court, the defendants have sought to remove these cases to federal court because climate change liability appears to be an issue that should be settled at the federal level. These efforts have been unsuccessful, with most federal trial and appellate courts holding that the reasons cited for removal (oftentimes the federal officer removal statute) have not been persuasive. In this case, both the Maryland federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals held they had no jurisdiction to authorize removal, and thus returned the case to the state court. Noting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that a removal action could be countenanced under Section 1442, thus creating a circuit split, the Supreme Court held that a straightforward reading of the removal statute empowers the reviewing court to examine all theories for removal that a district court has rejected. Consequently, the Court remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit where it can decide, “in the first instance,” whether there actually exist grounds to remove this case to federal court.

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This is a brief review of some of the significant environmental (and administrative law decisions) released the past few weeks.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

On April 22, 2021, the Court decided two important administrative law cases: Carr, et al. v. Saul and AMG Capital Management v. Federal Trade Commission.

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This is a brief report on new environmental law decisions, regulations and legislation.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association v. Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce
On March 22, 2021, the Supreme Court rejected a petition to review a Presidential decision to invoke the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate as a monument “an area of submerged land about the size of Connecticut” in the Atlantic Ocean. This action forbids all sorts of economic activity, which compelled the filing of litigation in the First Circuit challenging this designation. Chief Justice Roberts supported the Court’s denial of certiorari, but remarked that a stronger legal case may persuade the Court to review such liberal uses of the Antiquities Act.

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The federal courts have issued some significant environmental law rulings in the past few days.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, Inc.
On March 4, 2021, the court held that the deliberative process privilege of the Freedom of Information Act shields from disclosure in-house draft governmental biological opinions that are both “predecisional” and deliberative. According to the court, these opinions, opining on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) effects on aquatic species of a proposed federal rule affecting cooling water intake structures—which was promulgated in 2019—are exempt from disclosure because they do not reflect a “final” agency opinion. Indeed, these ESA-required opinions reflect a preliminary view, and the Services did not treat them as being the final or last word on the project’s desirability. The Sierra Club, invoking the FOIA, sought many records generated by the rulemaking proceeding, and received thousands of pages. However, the Service declined to release the draft biological opinions that were created in connection with the ESA consultative process.

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February saw the usual array of significant environmental decisions and federal regulatory notices.

THE FEDERAL COURTS

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia

Luminant Generation v. EPA
The court will be grappling with a difficult venue case governed by the Clean Air Act (42 USC Section 7607(b)). In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided the case of Luminant Generation v. EPA (714 F. 3d 841), in which the court upheld the affirmative defenses that were made part of the Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP) and which applied to certain unpermitted emissions from regulated sources during periods of startup, shutdown or malfunction. These defenses were challenged in the Fifth Circuit and were rejected. On the national stage, EPA has been involved in litigation over these affirmative defenses and recently excluded from a “SIP Call” the Texas program, which was carved out. This EPA decision is being challenged in the DC Circuit (see Case number 20-1115),with the State of Texas arguing as an intervenor that any issues involving Texas belong in the Fifth Circuit, and not in the DC Circuit because the Act allows regional issues to be decided in the regional federal courts.

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This is a brief review of recent significant environmental and administrative law rulings and developments. With the change in presidential administrations, the fate of at least some of the newly promulgated rules is uncertain.

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THE FEDERAL APPELLATE COURTS

The U.S. Court of Appeals
On November 23, 2020, the court, in a 2-to-1 vote, rejected the plaintiff’s request for an emergency injunction pending appeal in the case of Manzanita Band of Kumeyaay Nation, et al. v. Wolf. The majority held the requirement for such relief did not meet the requirements set forth in Winter v. NRDC, 555 US 7 (2008). Here, the plaintiffs allege that that the government’s construction of a border wall violates several environmental laws that were illegally waived by the Secretary of the Interior. Judge Millett dissented in part because the plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. She pointed to the argument that the authority of the Secretary—or Acting Secretary—to take these actions has been successfully challenged in several federal district courts. An expedited pleading schedule was established by the court.

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