Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether federal court was the proper forum for a suit filed in Colorado state court by local governmental entities for the global warming-related damage allegedly caused by oil and gas companies in Colorado. Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil advanced seven bases for federal subject matter jurisdiction in removing the action to federal court, each of which the district court rejected in its remand order. Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil appealed, reiterating six of those bases for federal jurisdiction. After review, the Tenth Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) limited its appellate jurisdiction to just one of them: federal officer removal under 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(1). And because the Court concluded ExxonMobil failed to establish grounds for federal officer removal, the Court affirmed the district court’s order on that basis and dismissed the remainder of this appeal. View "Boulder County Commissioners v. Suncor Energy" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review involved an interpretation of an environmental regulation addressing the renewal of permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. The statute and accompanying regulation allowed renewal of these permits only if they ensured “compliance with” all of the “applicable requirements.” The term “applicable requirements” was defined in the regulation, but not the statute. The Sierra Club interpreted the regulatory definition to require compliance with all existing statutory requirements; the EPA interpretd the regulatory definition more narrowly, arguing that the applicability of certain requirements was determined by the state permit issued under a separate part of the Clean Air Act (Title I). The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Sierra Club’s interpretation: the regulatory definition of “applicable requirements” included all requirements in the state’s implementation plan, and Utah’s implementation plan broadly required compliance with the Clean Air Act. So, the Court concluded, all of the Act’s requirements constituted “applicable requirements” under the regulation. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The United States Forest Service approved two forest thinning projects in the Santa Fe National Forest pursuant to authority granted by a 2014 amendment to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA). By thinning the forest and then conducting prescribed burns in the project areas, the Forest Service sought to reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfires and tree mortality related to insects and disease. Certain environmental organizations and individuals (collectively Wild Watershed) challenged the projects’ approval under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), asserting the Forest Service failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and HFRA. The district court rejected these claims, and the Tenth Circuit concurred, finding the Forest Service adequately considered the projects’ cumulative impacts as well as their potential effects on sensitive species in the area and the development of old growth forest. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Wild Watershed v. Hurlocker" on Justia Law

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The jaguar is a large felid found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Pertinent here, the jaguar was listed as a foreign endangered species in 1972. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule designating 764,207 acres in New Mexico and Arizona as critical jaguar habitat. Plaintiffs filed suit, contending the Service’s designation was arbitrary and capricious. The district court ruled in favor of the Service. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agency did not comply with the regulation, and the Tenth Circuit's "resolution of this issue is beyond doubt. Further, the agency had a chance to rectify this error, but failed to do so. When an agency does not comply with its own regulations, it acts arbitrarily and capriciously. " The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "NM Farm & Livestock Bureau v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Roadless Rule, which the Forest Service adopted in 2012, prohibits road construction in designated areas but included an exception for the North Fork Coal Mining Area (the “North Fork Exception”). In prior litigation, a district court concluded agency decisions violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and vacated the North Fork Exception. Following these decisions, the Forest Service prepared a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“North Fork SFEIS”) and readopted the Exception, Roadless Area Conservation. Mountain Coal Company, LLC, submitted lease modification requests in connection with coal leases in the area. In response, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“Leasing SFEIS”) and approved the requests. In the lawsuit that followed, a coalition of environmental organizations alleged the agencies violated NEPA and the APA by unreasonably eliminating alternatives from detailed study in the North Fork SFEIS and the Leasing SFEIS. The district court rejected these challenges. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed as to the North Fork SFEIS, holding that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to study in detail the “Pilot Knob Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. Accordingly, the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate the North Fork Exception. With respect to the Leasing SFEIS, the Tenth Circuit held NEPA did not require consideration of the “Methane Flaring Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. View "High Country Conservation v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Thomas Alpern claimed the United States Forest Service improperly charges him a fee when he entered Maroon Valley to park and hike. He cited an provision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) he claimed prohibited charging a fee "solely for parking." He argued that this prohibition overrode another REA provision that allowed agencies to charge a fee when certain listed amenities were present, like picnic tables, security patrols, trash bins, and interpretive signs. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding section 6802(d)(1)(A) prohibited charging fees “[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]” something Alpern did not do. The Court found Alpern parked in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed in section 6802(f)(4), not along a road or trailside. So it affirmed the district court’s decision to reject Alpern’s as-applied challenge to the Maroon Valley fee program. View "Alpern v. Ferebee" on Justia Law

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At issue here were three EPA orders granting extensions of the small refinery exemption to the Clean Air Act (“CAA”). Those orders were not made available to the public, and were challenged by a group of renewable fuels producers who claimed they found out about the extensions through news articles or public company filings (“the Biofuels Coalition”), and their petition to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals raised multiple questions. The EPA opposed the Biofuels Coalition’s appeal, as did the three recipients of the small refinery extensions, who were granted leave to intervene. The Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the Biofuels Coalition had standing to sue; (2) the Tenth Circuit had jurisdiction over this dispute; (3) the amended Clean Air Act allowed the EPA to grant an “extension” of the small refinery exemption, but not a stand-alone “exemption” in response to a convincing petition; and (4) the EPA exceeded its statutory authority in granting those petitions because there was nothing for the agency to “extend” because none of the three small refineries here consistently received an exemption in the years preceding its petition. The Tenth Circuit rejected the Biofuels Coalition’s claim that the EPA read the word “disproportionate” out of the statute, and disagreed with almost all of the Biofuels Coalition’s assertions that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in granting the extension petitions. The Tenth Circuit held the agency abused its discretion, however, by failing to address the extent to which the three refineries were able to recoup their compliance costs by charging higher prices for the fuels they sell. “The EPA has studied and staked out a policy position on this issue. One of the refineries expressly raised the issue in its extension petition. It was not reasonable for the agency to ignore it.” View "Renewable Fuels Assn. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Rio Grande was one of only a handful of rivers that created critical habitat for plants, animals, and humans. “And it is a fact of life that not enough water exists to meet the competing needs.” Recognizing these multiple uses, Congress has authorized the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain a balance between the personal, commercial, and agricultural needs of the people in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley and the competing needs of the plants and animals. WildEarth Guardians claimed the Army Corps of Engineers failed to protect the needs of two endangered species that live along the river: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow. The group filed suit under the Endangered Species Act, arguing the Army Corps of Engineers failed to exercise its discretion and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about alternative water management policies that would help protect these species. The district court concluded the Army Corps of Engineers was not authorized by the statute to allocate additional water to species’ needs and therefore was not required to consult with FWS. Finding no error in the district court’s reasoning, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The United States sought to enjoin the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe and several individual members from selling hunting and fishing licenses that authorized members to take wildlife from the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe was not a federally recognized Indian tribe, but it nonetheless claimed to have tribal rights, including hunting and fishing rights, related to the Reservation. The district court held the Tribe had no authority to issue licenses. The court, however, declined to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the issuance of future licenses against both the individual defendants and the Tribe. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe lacks authority to issue hunting and fishing licenses, and found the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to issue a permanent injunction. View "United States v. Uintah Valley Shoshone Tribe" on Justia Law

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In 1988, defendant United States Forest Service designated a 2,380 acre portion of the Manti-La Sal National Forest’s highest elevations, namely the summits and ridges of Mt. Peale, Mt. Mellenthin, and Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, as the Mt. Peale Research Natural Area (RNA). In June 2013, the Utah Wildlife Board approved UDWR’s “Utah Mountain Goat Statewide Management Plan.” Among other things, UDWR’s plan anticipated the release of a target population of 200 mountain goats into the La Sal Mountains adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest for the express purposes of hunting and viewing. The FS, concerned the goats might adversely affect the habitat of the higher alpine regions of the national forest, asked the Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources (UWDR) to delay implementation of its plan while the FS in coordination with UDWR studied the plan’s expected impact on the national forest and the RNA. UDWR rejected the FS’s request for an outright delay, and indicated it would begin implementing its plan by transplanting a small number of goats into the mountains, but would work cooperatively with the FS to assess impacts and develop a strategy to prevent overutilization of the habitat. In September 2013, UDWR released twenty mountain goats on State lands adjacent to the Manti-La Sal National Forest. A year later, UDWR released an additional fifteen mountain goats on the same State lands. The goats moved into the La Sal Mountains’ higher elevations, wallowing and foraging within the national forest and more particularly within the Mt. Peale RNA. Plaintiff Grand Canyon Trust demanded the FS: (1) prohibit UDWR from introducing additional mountain goats onto State lands adjacent to the national forest; (2) regulate UDWR’s occupancy and use of the national forest by requiring it to obtain special use authorization before releasing additional mountain goats on State lands; and (3) immediately remove the mountain goats already in the national forest. Determining UDWR did not release the goats on federal lands, the FS elected to "wait and see" before initiating any action against UDWR, and to "gather and evaluate data sufficient to determine whether action was warranted." GCT thereafter filed for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of GCT's complaint, concurring with the trial court that GCT "cleverly amalgamated federal law in an attempt to find some pathway to judicial review." The Tenth Circuit concluded GCT failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and affirmed dismissal of the complaint. View "Utah Native Plant Society v. U.S. Forest Service" on Justia Law