Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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In 2018, the EPA approved conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides for an additional two years. Petitioners sought review of the 2018 decision, alleging that it violates both the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Ninth Circuit held that the EPA's 2018 decision, and the conditional new-use registrations of XtendiMax, Engenia, and FeXapan for use on DT soybean and cotton that are premised on that decision, violate FIFRA. The panel explained that it need not decide whether substantial evidence supports a finding that the applicants submitted satisfactory data, because the panel held that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In this case, among other things, the EPA substantially understated the amount of DT seed acreage that had been planted in 2018, and, correspondingly, the amount of dicamba herbicide that had been sprayed on post-emergent crops; the EPA purported to be agnostic as to whether formal complaints of dicamba damage under-reported or overreported the actual damage, when record evidence clearly showed that dicamba damage was substantially under-reported; and the EPA refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as "potential" and "alleged," when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage. Therefore, the panel vacated the EPA's 2018 decision and the three registrations premised on that decision. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Volkswagen's installation of defeat devices in new cars for the purpose of evading compliance with federally mandated emission standards, and subsequent updating of the software in those cars so the defeat devices would do a better job of avoiding and preventing compliance. After Volkswagen settled EPA's criminal and civil actions for over $20 billion dollars, two counties sought to impose additional penalties for violation of their laws prohibiting tampering with emission control systems. The district court concluded that the claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Ninth Circuit held that, although the CAA expressly preempts state and local government efforts to apply anti-tampering laws to pre-sale vehicles, the CAA does not prevent the two counties here from enforcing their regulations against Volkswagen for tampering with post-sale vehicles. Furthermore, the panel rejected Volkswagen's assertions that the counties' anti-tampering rules were preempted under ordinary preemption principles. In this case, the panel saw no indication that Congress intended to preempt state and local authority to enforce anti-tampering rules on a model-wide basis. Furthermore, the CAA's cooperative federalism scheme, its express preservation of state and local police powers post sale, and the complete absence of a congressional intent to vest in the EPA the exclusive authority to regulate every incident of post-sale tampering raised the strong inference that Congress did not intend to deprive the EPA of effective aid from local officers to combat tampering with emission control systems. View "The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Secretary's issuance, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), of Secretarial Procedures which authorize the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to operate class III gaming activities on a parcel of land in Madera, California. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary and intervenor. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part as to plaintiffs' Johnson Act claim, holding that Secretarial Procedures are an exception to the prohibitions of the Johnson Act and thus they comply with the Administrative Procedure Act. The panel vacated and remanded in part as to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) claim, holding that the IGRA does not categorically bar application of NEPA because the two statutes are not irreconcilable and do not displace each other, and because a contrary result would contravene congressional intent and common sense. Finally, the panel vacated and remanded in part as to the Clean Air Act (CCA) claim, holding that Secretarial Procedures are categorically exempt from the CAA's requirement of a conformity determination. View "Stand Up for California! v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Department of Defense in an action challenging the Department's construction and operation of an aircraft base in Okinawa, Japan. Plaintiffs also challenged the potential adverse effects on the endangered Okinawa dugong. The panel held that the Department complied with the procedural requirement that it "take into account" the effects of its proposed action on foreign property under Section 402 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The panel also held that the Department's finding that its proposed action would have no adverse effect on the foreign property was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and/or contrary to law in violation of Section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In this case, the Department met its procedural obligations and its finding of "no adverse impact" was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Esper" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted the Forest Service's request to publish the unpublished Memorandum Disposition with modifications. The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Forest Service in an action alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The panel held that the Forest Service's determination that the Crystal Clear Restoration Project did not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was arbitrary and capricious for two independent reasons. First, the effects of the Project are highly controversial and uncertain, thus mandating the creation of an EIS. Second, the Forest Service failed to identify and meaningfully analyze the cumulative impacts of the Project. Because an EIS is required, and because the findings in the EIS could prompt the Forest Service to change the scope of the Project or the methods it plans to use, the panel did not reach the remaining claims. The panel reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bark v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Forest Service and intervenors in an action challenging the Forest Service's issuance of grazing authorizations between 2006 and 2015 on seven allotments in the Malheur National Forest. ONDA argued that the Forest Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its application of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) by failing to analyze and show that the grazing authorizations were consistent with the Forest Plan. The panel held that ONDA's challenge is justiciable where the challenge was sufficiently ripe and the dispute was not moot. On the merits, the panel held that the Forest Service met its procedural and substantive obligations pursuant to the NFMA and the APA in issuing the grazing authorizations. In this case, because the Forest Service was not obligated by statute, regulation, or caselaw to memorialize each site-specific grazing authorization's consistency with the forest plan, the panel held that the absence of such a document is not in itself arbitrary and capricious. Furthermore, the Forest Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to the NFMA's consistency requirement as applied to Standard GM-1 in issuing any of the challenged grazing authorizations. Finally, the Forest Service did not act arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to Standard 5 in issuing any of the challenged grazing authorizations. View "Oregon Natural Desert Assoc. v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for writ of mandamus and ordered the EPA to respond to the NRDC's petition requesting that the EPA end the use of a dangerous pesticide, tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), in household pet products. The panel held that the EPA has unreasonably and egregiously delayed the performance of its statutory duties on this critical matter of public health and that the circumstances warrant the extraordinary remedy of issuing a writ of mandamus. The panel considered the factors established in Telecomms. Research and Action Ctr. (TRAC) v. FCC, 750 F.2d 70, 79–80 (D.C. Cir. 1984), and held that the factors supported mandamus relief where, for more than a decade, the EPA has frustrated NRDC's ability to seek judicial review by withholding final agency action, all the while endangering the well-being of millions of children and ignoring its "core mission" of "protecting human health and the environment." The panel noted that, if the EPA begins cancellation proceedings, then the panel expects cancellation proceedings to conclude within one year of the date of this decision, and any extension beyond that must be supported by a showing of good cause. If the agency denies NRDC's petition on the merits, then NRDC may appeal that final agency action under the standards of the Administrative Procedure Act and any other applicable law. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's interlocutory orders in an action brought by plaintiffs, an environment organization and individual plaintiffs, alleging climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government continuing to "permit, authorize, and subsidize" fossil fuel. In this case, a substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse. The panel first rejected the government's contention that plaintiffs' claim must proceed, if at all, under the Administrative Procedure Act. Although plaintiffs had concrete and particularized injuries and the district court properly found the Article III causation requirement satisfied, the panel reluctantly concluded that plaintiffs' injuries were not redressable by an Article III court. The panel held that it was beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement plaintiffs' requested remedial plan. Rather, the panel stated that plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. View "Juliana v. United States" on Justia Law

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CBD filed suit seeking to compel the Department of the Interior to reinstate the Refuges Rule that prevented Alaska from applying certain state hunting regulations on federal wildlife refuges. In 2017, Congress used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to order Interior to rescind the regulation. The Ninth Circuit held that CBD lacked standing to challenge the Reenactment Provision, because it failed to allege an injury in fact that was more than speculative. Therefore, the panel dismissed CBD's argument that the Reenactment Clause violated the nondelegation doctrine. After determining that the Jurisdiction-Stripping Provision of the CRA did not include any explicit language barring judicial review of constitutional claims, the panel held that the Joint Resolution disapproving the Refuges Rule did not violate the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, and thus CBD's complaint failed to state a claim that was plausible on its face. The panel rejected CBD's argument that the CRA and Joint Resolution violated separation-of-powers principles because they interfere with the Executive Branch's duty under the Take Care Clause. The panel held that, because Congress properly enacted the Joint Resolution, and therefore validly amended Interior's authority to administer national wildlife refuges in Alaska, Congress did not prevent the President from exercising his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. The panel joined other circuits in holding that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over statutory claims that arise under the CRA. In this case, CBD challenged Interior's rescission of the Refuges Rule solely on the ground that Congress did not validly enact the Joint Resolution. Therefore, the panel held that CBD's claim necessarily involved a challenge to a congressional "determination, finding, action or omission" under the CRA, and was therefore subject to the Jurisdiction-Stripping Provision. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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A constructive submission will be found where a state has failed over a long period of time to submit a "total maximum daily loads" (TMDL), and clearly and unambiguously decided not to submit any TMDL. Where a state has failed to develop and issue a particular TMDL for a prolonged period of time, and has failed to develop a schedule and credible plan for producing that TMDL, it has no longer simply failed to prioritize this obligation. Instead, there has been a constructive submission of no TMDL, which triggers the EPA's mandatory duty to act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for environmental groups in a citizen suit brought under the Clean Water Act, seeking to compel the EPA to develop and issue a long-overdue temperature TMDL for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The panel held that Washington and Oregon have clearly and unambiguously decided not to produce and issue a temperature TMDL for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Therefore, the EPA was obligated to act under section 1313(d)(2) of the Act. View "Columbia Riverkeeper v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law