Articles Posted in Environmental

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Environmental Justice, as an urgent policy priority of the Federal Government, dates back to 1994, and President Clinton’s issuance of Executive Order 12898. This order directed federal agencies to identify and address, as appropriate, “the disproportionately high and adverse human health and environment effects of its many programs, policies, and procedures on minority populations and low-income populations.” Executive Order 12898 supplements Executive Order 12550 (1980), whose primary legal basis was Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in particular, Sections 601 and 602, which prohibit discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal financial aid and assistance.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has reviewed the scope and importance of Title VI. For example, in Alexander v. Sandoval, decided in 2001, the Court concluded that while private parties could sue to enforce Section 601 or its implementing regulations, Section 601 only prohibits intentional discrimination; which is very difficult to prove. In addition, the Court ruled in Sandoval, that private parties cannot sue to enforce regulations implementing Section 602. Perhaps as an acknowledgement of these shortcomings, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has for many years operated an administrative system to process environmental justice complaints (see 40 CFR Part 7). The process is complex and the results—usually whether a state agency has failed to uphold Title VI—have generally been unsatisfactory. To be successful, many proponents of environmental justice believe that a statutory foundation must be established, and significant efforts have been made to do so.

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On August 16, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the Idaho property of Michael and Chantell Sackett was a regulated wetlands under the then-controlling 1977 EPA rules defining “waters of the United States,” and that the Sacketts dredging and filling of their property was subject to regulation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or EPA. EPA’s case, as it has been for many years, was based on 2008 EPA and Corps inspection reports and Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test as the controlling opinion in the 2006 Supreme Court case, Rapanos v. United States. The Sacketts’ argument was that the text of the Clean Water Act, as interpreted by Justice Scalia and three other Justices, was controlling, but for several years, the Ninth Circuit has relied on Justice Kennedy’s opinion in these CWA controversies. The court’s opinion expressed considerable sympathy for the Sacketts as they negotiated the thicket of EPA’s regulatory processes, but it could not disregard circuit precedent. A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled, in a unanimous decision, that EPA’s then extant administrative compliance orders were arbitrary and capricious. (See Sackett v. US, 566 US 120 (2015).) After that decision, the case was remanded to the federal district court, where it lingered for several more years.

It will be interesting to see if there will be another Supreme Court challenge to the Ninth Circuit’s disposition of the Sacketts’ Clean Water Act jurisdictional arguments.

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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 

Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco

On June 28, 2021, the Supreme Court decided this regulatory “takings” case, and, in a Per Curium opinion, reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that that petitioners had to exhaust their state administrative remedies before they could file this lawsuit under 42 USC Section 1983. The City government had already come to a sufficient regulatory conclusion, and the Constitution does not require additional processing. In so ruling, the Ninth Circuit ignored last term’s decision in Knick v. Township of Scott.

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What follows is a brief account of some of the notable U.S. environmental and administrative law cases recently decided.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

Nestle USA, Inc. et al. v. Doe, et al.
The Supreme Court has decided another important case interpreting the Alien Tort Statute. Released on June 17, 2021, this decision reverses the Ninth Circuit which had ruled that the respondents—six individuals who alleged they were child slaves employed on Ivory Coast cocoa farms, could sue the American-based companies for aiding and abetting child slave labor. Without dissent, the Court rejected this reading of the ATS and affirmed its own recent rulings on the scope of the ATS.

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graphic, light blue scales on darker blue

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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graphic, light blue scales on darker blue

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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