Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al.
This case arises from a regulatory dispute involving a hydroelectric project. The project aimed to boost a municipality’s water supply. To obtain more water, the municipality proposed to raise a local dam and expand a nearby reservoir. But implementation of the proposal would require amendment of the municipality’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted a discharge permit to the municipality. A group of conservation organizations challenged the Corps’ decision by petitioning in federal district court. While the petition was pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed amendment of the municipality’s license to raise the dam and expand the reservoir. The Commission’s amendment of the municipality’s license triggered a jurisdictional question: if federal courts of appeals had exclusive jurisdiction over petitions challenging decisions made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, did this jurisdiction extend to challenges against the Corps’ issuance of a permit to allow discharges required for the modification of a hydroelectric project licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? The district court answered yes, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The conservation organizations were challenging the Corps’ issuance of a permit, not the Commission’s amendment of a license. So the statute didn’t limit jurisdiction to the court of appeals. View "Save The Colorado, et al. v. Spellmon, et al." on Justia Law
Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al.
In 2018, Garfield County, Utah sought to chip-seal a 7.5-mile portion of the Burr Trail known as the Stratton Segment. Before the County could begin its chip-sealing project, it was legally required to consult with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) about the project’s scope and impact and obtain BLM’s approval. After doing so, Garfield County completed the project. Soon after Garfield County chip-sealed the Stratton Segment, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other conservation groups sued BLM and the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”). Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), SUWA alleged that BLM had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when approving the chip-sealing project. The district court disagreed and dismissed SUWA’s claims. SUWA raised the same issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit held that BLM didn’t act arbitrarily and capriciously in informally determining that Garfield County had an R.S. 2477 right-of-way over the Stratton Segment. After reviewing the record, the Court disagreed with SUWA that BLM “purported to” rely on IM 2008-175 in its R.S. 2477 determination. "Instead, BLM properly relied on its authority under our caselaw to informally determine, for BLM’s own purposes, that Garfield County holds its asserted R.S. 2477 right-of-way. Thus, BLM’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." View "Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law
Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, et al. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, et al.
Appellants Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Rocky Flats Right to Know, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association, and Environmental Information Network (EIN) Inc. (collectively, “the Center”) were organizations that challenged the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (the “Service”) 2018 decision to modify trails in the Refuge that were designated for public use. They sued the Service and others, claiming they failed to comply with various federal statutes and regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”) and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (“ESA”). The Center also moved for a preliminary injunction and for the district court to supplement the administrative record and consider evidence from outside the record. The district court denied the Center’s NEPA claims, dismissed its ESA claim for lack of standing, and denied its motions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, et al. v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, et al." on Justia Law
Allen, Jr., et al. v. Environmental Restoration
During excavation of an inactive gold mine in southwestern Colorado, a blowout caused the release of at least three million gallons of contaminated water into Cement Creek. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) conceded its responsibility for the spill and its impacts. The State of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and the State of Utah separately filed civil actions, under the Clean Water Act, in New Mexico and Utah against the owners of the mine, the EPA, and the EPA’s contractors. Defendant Environmental Restoration, LLC moved to transfer the Utah case to the District of New Mexico for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation granted the motion and centralized proceedings in New Mexico. Later, the Allen Plaintiffs (individuals who farm land or raise livestock along the Animas River or San Juan River) filed a complaint in New Mexico that included state law claims of negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence. The district court consolidated the Allen Plaintiffs’ suit, including the state law claims, into the Multidistrict Litigation. Defendant Environmental Restoration, LLC moved to dismiss the Allen Plaintiffs’ Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the Allen Plaintiffs did not file their complaint within Colorado’s two-year statute of limitations and therefore they failed to state a claim. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, reasoning that New Mexico’s three-year statute of limitations applied to the Allen Plaintiffs’ state-law claims. The district court certified the issue for interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court had to apply the point source state’s statute of limitations to state law claims preserved under the CWA. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen, Jr., et al. v. Environmental Restoration" on Justia Law
Northern New Mexico Stockman, et al. v. United States Fish & Wildlife Service, et al.
In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exercised its authority under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to designate nearly 14,000 acres of riparian land in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona as critical habitat for the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse. Two New Mexico ranching associations whose members graze cattle on the designated land challenged the Service’s critical habitat determination. The district court rejected each argument and upheld the Service’s critical habitat designation. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, concluding: (1) the Service’s method for assessing the economic impacts of critical habitat designation complied with the ESA; (2) the Service adequately considered the effects of designation on the ranching association members’ water rights; and (3) the Service reasonably supported its decision not to exclude certain areas from the critical habitat designation. View "Northern New Mexico Stockman, et al. v. United States Fish & Wildlife Service, et al." on Justia Law
Cyprus Amax Minerals Company v. TCI Pacific Communications
TCI Pacific Communications, LLC (“TCI”) appealed a district court’s judgment holding it liable to Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. (“Cyprus”) for contribution under 42 U.S.C. sections 9601(9)(B), 9607(a), and 9613(f) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). This case involved claims brought by Cyprus to determine whether TCI could be held liable for environmental cleanup costs relating to zinc smelting operations near Collinsville, Oklahoma. The Bartlesville Zinc Company, a former subsidiary of Cyprus’s predecessor, operated the Bartlesville Zinc Smelter (the “BZ Smelter”) from 1911 to 1918, near Collinsville, Oklahoma. TFMC owned and operated another zinc smelter (the “TFM Smelter”) from 1911 to 1926. This case does not concern cleanup work at either smelter, but rather is an action by Cyprus seeking cost recovery and contribution for its remediation in the broader Collinsville area, within the Collinsville Soil Program (“CSP”) Study Area. Cyprus sought to hold TCI liable as a former owner or operator of the TFM Smelter whose waste was located throughout the CSP Study Area. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Cyprus and pierced the corporate veil to hold TCI’s corporate predecessor, the New Jersey Zinc Company (“NJZ”), liable as the alter ego of the Tulsa Fuel & Manufacturing Co. (“TFMC”). The district court then interpreted CERCLA and held that TCI was liable as a former owner/operator of a CERCLA “facility.” Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Cyprus Amax Minerals Company v. TCI Pacific Communications" on Justia Law
Utah Physic. for Healthy Env’t v. Diesel Power Gear, et al.
Defendants’ businesses focused on large diesel trucks and related parts, merchandise, and media. In 2017 Defendants were sued by Plaintiff Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), a nonprofit organization that alleged, among other things, that Defendants were tampering with required emission-control devices and installing so-called “defeat devices” in violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Utah’s State Implementation Plan. After a bench trial the court entered judgment in favor of UPHE, finding Defendants collectively liable for hundreds of violations of the CAA and Utah’s plan and assessing over $760,000 in civil penalties. On appeal Defendants challenged UPHE’s Article III and statutory standing, the district court’s inclusion of certain kinds of transactions in its tabulation of violations, and the court’s penalty analysis. Although the Tenth Circuit rejected most of Defendants’ arguments, it felt compelled to remand this case back to the district court for additional proceedings because: (1) UPHE lacked Article III standing to complain of conduct by Defendants that had not contributed to air pollution in Utah’s Wasatch Front; and (2) the district court needed to reevaluate the seriousness of Defendants’ violations of the Utah plan’s anti-tampering provision. View "Utah Physic. for Healthy Env't v. Diesel Power Gear, et al." on Justia Law
Rio Hondo Land v. EPA
Petitioner-Appellant Rio Hondo petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal to review a decision of the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (“EAB”). Rio Hondo sought to vacate relaxed pollutant limitations in a 2017 permit issued by the EPA to an upstream waste water treatment plant. The waste water treatment plant served the Village of Ruidoso and City of Ruidoso Downs, and was an identified point source of pollutants into the Rio Ruidoso river. The Rio Ruidoso was classified under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) as marginally impaired for nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. The Rio Hondo river was downstream from the Rio Ruidoso river, and the Rio Hondo river flowed adjacent to the Rio Hondo ranch. Rio Hondo contended that reduced river water quality, including algae blooms, harmed its ability to make critical use of the river water. Rio Hondo contended two aspects of the EPA’s 2017 permit constitute impermissible backsliding under the CWA: (1) the permit does not include concentration-based limitations that prior permits included; and (2) the permit increased the mass-based limitation on nitrogen discharges. The 2017 permit relied on a 2016 Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”) report prepared by the New Mexico Environment Department and adopted by the EPA. Rio Hondo previously challenged the 2016 TMDL in New Mexico state court and lost. The Tenth Circuit denied Rio Hondo's petition: Rio Hondo presented no new information which would cast doubt on the 2016 TMDL, and its challenge to the 2017 permit "boils down to a challenge of that underlying 2016 TMDL. The record demonstrates that the EPA reasonably relied on the 2016 TMDL in issuing the 2017 permit, did not abuse its discretion in creating the permit limits, and appropriately applied a statutory exception to the anti-backsliding provisions of the CWA." View "Rio Hondo Land v. EPA" on Justia Law
Natural Resources Defense v. McCarthy
At issue in this case was whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to conduct an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it re-opened an area that it had temporarily closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) pursuant to its authority under 43 C.F.R. section 8341.2(a). In 2006, the BLM closed a portion of the Factory Butte area in Utah to OHVs due to their adverse effects on the endangered Wright fishhook cactus. The BLM lifted that closure order in 2019 and re-opened the area to OHV use, but did not perform any kind of environmental analysis under NEPA before doing so. Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, alleging violations of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court disagreed with Plaintiffs' contention and dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Natural Resources Defense v. McCarthy" on Justia Law
State of Colorado v. EPA
The issue common to appeals consolidated for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on what are "waters of the United States." In April 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers tried to define the phrase through a regulation called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR). The State of Colorado swiftly challenged the NWPR in federal court, arguing the new rule, despite its name, did very little to protect waters of the United States and was both substantively and procedurally flawed. Before the NWPR took effect, Colorado asked the district court to enjoin the Agencies from implementing the rule pending a determination on the merits of the case. The district court obliged, issuing an order staying the effective date of the NWPR and preliminarily enjoining the Agencies to continue administering the Clean Water Act under the then-current regulations. The Tenth Circuit was asked whether the district court abused its discretion when it granted Colorado injunctive relief. To this, the Court responded in the affirmative: "Colorado asked for immediate relief but hasn’t shown it will suffer irreparable injury absent a preliminary injunction. Because that alone compels us to reverse, we do not consider the other preliminary injunction factors." View "State of Colorado v. EPA" on Justia Law