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Weekly Opinion Summaries

Environmental Law

Weekly Summaries Distributed April 15, 2011
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Arkansas Game & Fish Comm'n v. United States

Court: U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 09-5121Opinion Date: March 30, 2011

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Environmental Law

Beginning in 1993 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implemented temporary deviations from its 1953 Water Control Manual in operating the Clearwater Dam, to protect agricultural and other uses. Efforts to update the Manual were eventually abandoned. The state sought compensation for "taking" of its flowage easement based on flooding of the 23,000-acre Black River Wildlife Management Area, which resulted in excessive timber mortality. The Court of Claims awarded more than $5.5 million in damages. The Federal Circuit reversed, reasoning that temporary flooding, which is not "inevitably recurring," does not amount to a taking, but, at most, created tort liability.

http://j.st/oiQ View Case

Southern Alliance for Clean En v. Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC

Court: U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 09-1928, 08-2370Opinion Date: April 14, 2011

Areas of Law: Environmental Law

Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendant alleging that defendant was violating the Clean Air Act ("Act") by constructing a coal-fired power plant without a determination that the power plant would achieve a level of air pollution control that satisfied the Act's Maximum Achievable Control Technology provisions. At issue was whether the district court erred in awarding attorneys' fees to plaintiffs based on the merits of an order that granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs. The court held that attorneys' fees were properly awarded based on plaintiffs' success in the litigation where defendant was subject to state administrative proceedings as a consequence of plaintiffs' suit. The court also held that defendant's merits argument was irrelevant to the court's determination where plaintiffs achieved success supporting the fee award.

http://j.st/oMf View Case

Pacific Merchant Shipping Asso v. James Goldstene, et al

Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 09-17765Opinion Date: March 28, 2011

Areas of Law: Admiralty & Maritime Law, Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law

Plaintiff sued defendant, the Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board ("CARB"), alleging that California's Vessel Fuel Rules ("VFR")violated federal statutory and constitutional grounds. At issue was whether the VFR was preempted by the Submerged Lands Act and whether the VFR was preempted by the Commerce Clause and Supremacy Clause. The court held that summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff was properly denied where plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the VFR was "otherwise 'unlawful and impermissibly regulate navigation and foreign and domestic commerce as delegated to the United States Congress'" under the Submerged Lands Act. The court also held that summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff was properly denied where the Commerce Clause or general maritime law should be used to bar a state from exercising its own police powers when such powers were used to combat severe environmental problems.

http://j.st/owh View Case

Karuk Tribe of Calif v. USFS, et al

Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 05-16801Opinion Date: April 7, 2011

Areas of Law: Environmental Law

Plaintiffs appealed a denial of summary judgment in a suit involving suction dredge mining activity conducted by defendants-intervenors, the New 49'ers, in the Klamath River. At issue was whether a United States Forest Service District Ranger's ("Ranger") decision, that a proposed mining operation may proceed according to the miner's Notice of Intent ("NOI") and would not require a Plan of Operations ("Plan"), was an agency action for purposes of triggering the Endangered Species Act's ("ESA") interagency consulting obligations. The court held that the NOI process did not constitute an agency action under the ESA where the Ranger's receipt of an NOI and resulting decision not to require a Plan was best described as an agency decision not to act and where "inaction was not action for section 7(a)(2) purposes."

http://j.st/oNs View Case

Natural Resources Defense Coun, et al v. EPA

Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 08-72288Opinion Date: March 30, 2011

Areas of Law: Environmental Law

Plaintiffs filed a petition of review related to the Environmental Protection Agency's ("EPA")overall approval process of California's state implementation plan which contained limits on motor vehicle emissions for the years 2009 and 2012. At issue was whether the EPA's decision was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise contrary to law where the EPA's final determination was that the baseline budgets were "adequate" for transportation conformity purposes. The court denied the petition and held that the EPA's reading of its own regulations, which did not require an appropriate attainment demonstration, was reliable and therefore, did not compel an alternative reading to the EPA's interpretation.

http://j.st/owP View Case

Fred Gardner, et al v. BLM

Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 09-35647Opinion Date: April 7, 2011

Areas of Law: Environmental Law

Plaintiffs brought suit for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act seeking to compel defendant to prohibit off-road vehicle use of Oregon's Little Canyon Mountain area. At issue was whether defendant's failure to close Little Canyon Mountain to off-road vehicle use violated the Federal Land and Policy Management Act of 1976, 43 U.S.C. 1701-1785, and 43 C.F.R. 8340-8342. The court held that defendant did not, and was not required to, make a finding that the off-road vehicle use of which plaintiff complained had caused "considerable adverse effects" on the resources enumerated in 43 C.F.R. 8341.2(a) and therefore, the court could not compel defendant to close Little Canyon Mountain to off-road vehicle use. The court also held that defendant's denial of plaintiff's petition to close Little Canyon Mountain to off-road vehicle use was not arbitrary and capricious.

http://j.st/oNW View Case

United States v. Wilgus

Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Docket: 09-4046Opinion Date: March 29, 2011

Areas of Law: Animal / Dog Law, Criminal Law, Environmental Law

Wilgus was arrested for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. 668, which prohibits possession of eagle feathers, but excepts possession for religious purposes of Indian tribes. Wilgus is a follower of a Native American faith and blood-brother to a Paiute, but not a member of a recognized tribe, nor is he Indian by birth. He received at least one feather for religious purposes. Following a remand, the district court held that application of the Eagle Act to Wilgus would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1 (RFRA), which prohibits government from substantially burdening religious freedom, except to forward a compelling governmental interest via the least restrictive means. The Tenth Circuit reversed. The government has competing compelling interests in protecting eagles and in preserving Native American religion and culture. The RFRA exception is intended to protect the religion and culture of tribes, not individual practitioners. Tribes are quasi-sovereign political entities; protection of faith practices among the general public might violate the Establishment Clause. The government need not refute every option to satisfy the least restrictive means prong of RFRA; the RFRA exception balances the competing interests. Proposed alternatives, involving creation of a feather repository, opening permits to all sincere adherents to Native American religion, or allowing Native Americans to gift feathers, would either be impractical or have a negative impact on governmental goals.

http://j.st/ow9 View Case
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