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Justia Weekly Opinion Summaries

Environmental Law
March 17, 2017

Table of Contents

Medicine Creek LLC v. Middle Republican Natural Resources District

Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Nebraska Supreme Court

Hill v. State

Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law

Nebraska Supreme Court

Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA

Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law

Washington Supreme Court

Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources

Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Utah Supreme Court

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Environmental Law Opinions

Medicine Creek LLC v. Middle Republican Natural Resources District

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation: 296 Neb. 1

Opinion Date: March 10, 2017

Judge: William B. Cassel

Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Medicine Creek LLC filed a request for a variance from the Middle Republican Natural Resources District’s (MRNRD) moratorium on new well drilling. MRNRD voted to deny the variance. Medicine Creek sought judicial review pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 46-750 and the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court reversed, concluding that MRNRD’s decision was not supported by the evidence, did not conform to the law, and was therefore arbitrary. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the order denying Medicine Creek’s request for a variance was judicial in nature and was appealable to the district court; and (2) the district court committed plain error by applying the wrong standard of review rather than the de novo standard. Remanded.

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Hill v. State

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation: 296 Neb. 10

Opinion Date: March 10, 2017

Judge: Michael G. Heavican

Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law

In 2013 and 2014, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued orders and closing notices to holders of surface water permits for natural flow and storage in the Republic River Basin. Several appropriators, on behalf of themselves and a class of farmers who irrigate with water delivered by the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District, subject to Nebraska’s allocation of water under the Republican River Compact, brought these actions alleging regulatory takings claims against the State and the DNR. The district court consolidated the claims and granted the State and the DNR’s motions to dismiss both of the appropriators’ causes of action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DNR’s streamflow administration did not result in a taking under the Nebraska Constitution because the Compact, as federal law, supersedes the appropriators’ property interests; and (2) the alleged failure of DNR to regulate ground water pumping did not amount to a taking because DNR does not have a duty to regulate ground water.

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Columbia Riverkeeper v. Port of Vancouver USA

Court: Washington Supreme Court

Docket: 92335-3

Opinion Date: March 16, 2017

Judge: Mary Fairhurst

Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law

This case stemmed from a dispute over the regulatory schemes of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the energy facilities site locations act (EFSLA), and how those schemes applied to a lease agreement between respondents, the Port of Vancouver USA and its board of commissioners (Port), and Tesoro Corporation and Savage Companies (Tesoro). The lease agreement permitted Tesoro to construct a petroleum based energy facility on the Port's property. The agreement remained contingent on review by, and certification from, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), the primary decision-making authority in the field of energy facilities siting and regulation under EFSLA. EFSLA incorporated by reference numerous regulations from SEPA, including WAC 197-11-714(3) and -070(1)(b) which precluded agencies "with jurisdiction" from taking actions that would "[l]imit the choice of reasonable alternatives" prior to the issuance of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The Port entered into the lease agreement with Tesoro prior to EFSEC's issuance of an EIS. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center (collectively, “Riverkeeper”) sued the Port, alleging, among other things, that the lease agreement limited the choice of reasonable alternatives available to the Port, thereby violating SEPA. The trial court summarily dismissed Riverkeeper's SEPA claims in favor of the Port, holding that the contingencies contained within the lease preserved reasonable alternatives available to the Port. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding the Port's lease with Tesoro did not violate SEPA. However, the Court affirmed only the outcome; the Court adopted the trial court’s reasoning and affirmed.

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Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources

Court: Utah Supreme Court

Citation: 2017 UT 15

Opinion Date: March 15, 2017

Judge: Thomas R. Lee

Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Friends of Great Salt Lake (Friends) challenged the decision of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Division) granting a mining lease covering a small portion of the Great Salt Lake. Friends made three simultaneous attempts to halt the lease in requests and petitions submitted to the Division or to the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Department). The Division and Department issued a single agency order denying all three. Friends appealed and sought leave to amend its complaint to raise additional constitutional and statutory arguments. The district court affirmed the rejection of Friends’ requests and petitions, denied in part Friends’ attempt to amend its complaint, and subsequently dismissed Friends’ remaining arguments on summary judgment. Friends appealed and, alternatively, sought extraordinary relief. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed in large part and denied Friends’ request for extraordinary relief; and (2) reversed to a limited extent, holding that the Division was required to engage in “site-specific planning” under the applicable provisions of the Utah Administrative Code. Remanded to allow the Department to decide on the appropriate remedy for the failure to perform such planning.

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