Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Trona is a sodium carbonate compound that is processed into soda ash or baking soda. Because oil and gas development posed a risk to the extraction of trona and trona worker safety, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the leasing of federal public land for mineral development, indefinitely suspended all oil and gas leases in the mechanically mineable trona area (MMTA) of Wyoming. The area includes 26 pre-existing oil and gas leases owned by Barlow. Barlow filed suit, alleging that the BLM’s suspension of oil and gas leases constituted a taking of Barlow’s interests without just compensation and constituted a breach of both the express provisions of the leases and their implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the contract claims on the merits and of the takings claim as unripe. BLM has not repudiated the contracts and Barlow did not establish that seeking a permit to drill would be futile. View "Barlow & Haun, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Lost Tree entered into an option to purchase 2,750 acres on the mid-Atlantic coast of Florida, including a barrier island, a peninsula bordering the Indian River, and islands in the Indian River. From 1969 to 1974, Lost Tree purchased most of the land, including Plat 57, 4.99 acres on the Island of John’s Island and Gem Island, consisting of submerged lands and wetlands. Lost Tree developed 1,300 acres into a gated community, but had no plans of developing Plat 57 until 2002, when it learned that a developer applied for a wetlands fill permit for land south of Plat 57 and proposed improvements to a mosquito control impoundment on McCuller’s Point. Because Lost Tree owned land on McCuller’s Point, approval required its consent. Lost Tree sought permitting credits in exchange for the proposed improvements. To take advantage of those credits, Lost Tree obtained zoning and other local and state permits to develop Plat 57. The Army Corps of Engineers denied an application under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344 for a section 404 fill permit, finding that Lost Tree could have pursued less environmentally damaging alternatives and had adequately realized its development purpose. On remand, the trial court found that the denial diminished Plat 57’s value by 99.4% and constituted a per se taking and awarded Lost Tree $4,217,887.93. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that a “Lucas” taking occurred because the denial eliminated all value stemming from Plat 57’s possible economic uses. View "Lost Tree Vill. Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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RI purchased 320 acres in Washington State for use as a landfill and, in 1989, applied for state permits. Because the proposed landfill involved filling wetland areas, it sought a Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. State permits issued in 1996. In 1994, the Corps required an Environmental Impact Statement; its draft EIS preliminarily concluded that RI had not demonstrated that there were no practicable alternatives to the proposed landfill (40 C.F.R. 230.10(a)). RI terminated the process. The Corps denied the application. In 1996, RI sued, alleging that the process and denial violated the CWA and was arbitrary. The district court upheld the decision, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, citing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. 6941, under which regulation of municipal solid waste in landfills constructed on wetlands lies solely with the EPA or states with EPA-approved programs. The landfill became operational in 1999. In 1998, while the Ninth Circuit appeal was pending, RI filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, alleging unconstitutional taking. The court dismissed, citing 28 U.S.C. 1500: the Claims Court “shall not have jurisdiction of any claim for or in respect to which the plaintiff or his assignee has pending in any other court any suit or process against the United States.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Res. Inv., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Roca Solida, a non-profit religious organization, purchased a 40-acre Nevada parcel. A desert stream flowed across the property, the water rights to which Roca also purchased. The water supplied a recreational pond, used for baptisms. Roca’s property is situated within a national wildlife refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An FWS water restoration project completed in 2010 “restored [the] stream to its natural channel,” the effect of which was to divert the stream away from Roca Solida’s property, depriving it of water it would have otherwise enjoyed. In federal district court in Nevada, Roca sought declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief on the basis of alleged violations under the First and Fifth Amendment and “at least $86,639.00 in damage[s]” under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671–80. It also sued in the Claims Court, seeking declaratory relief and compensatory damages on the basis that the diversion project constituted an unlawful taking and asserting FWS negligently executed the water diversion project, causing $86,639 in damages to “land, structures, and animals.” The Claims Court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in light of the pending district court action under 28 U.S.C. 1500. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Ministerio Roca Solida v. United States" on Justia Law

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Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, each of the Oil Companies entered into contracts with the government to provide high-octane aviation gas (avgas) to fuel military aircraft. The production of avgas resulted in waste products such as spent alkylation acid and “acid sludge.” The Oil Companies contracted to have McColl, a former Shell engineer, dump the waste at property in Fullerton, California. More than 50 years later, California and the federal government obtained compensation from the Oil Companies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, for the cost of cleaning up the McColl site. The Oil Companies sued, arguing the avgas contracts require the government to indemnify them for the CERCLA costs. The Court of Federal Claims granted summary judgment in favor of the government. The Federal Circuit reversed with respect to breach of contract liability and remanded. As a concession to the Oil Companies, the avgas contracts required the government to reimburse the Oil Companies for their “charges.” The court particularly noted the immense regulatory power the government had over natural resources during the war and the low profit margin on the avgas contracts. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The companies obtained an oil and gas lease from the government for a 5760-acre tract on the Outer Continental Shelf. They made an initial bonus payment of $23,236,314 and have paid additional rental payments of $54,720 per year. The lease became effective on August 1, 2008, and had an initial term running through July 31, 2016. It provided that it issued pursuant to and was subject to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of August 7, 1953, (OCSLA) 43 U.S.C. 1331 and “all regulations issued pursuant to the statute in the future which provide for the prevention of waste and conservation of the natural resources of the Outer Continental Shelf and the protection of correlative rights therein; and all other applicable statutes and regulations.” In 2010, an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and caused an oil spill that lasted several months. As a result, the government imposed new regulatory requirements, Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. 2701. The companies sued for breach of contract. The Claims Court and Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the government, finding that the government made the changes pursuant to OCSLA, not OPA. View "Century Exploration New Orleans, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In the 1830s, the Army Corps of Engineers began constructing harbor jetties into Lake Michigan near the St. Joseph River. In 1950 the Corps began encasing the jetties in steel-sheet piling. The project was completed in 1989. Plaintiffs own land along the lake shore, south of the jetties. The shoreline is eroding naturally, but plaintiffs allege that the jetties block the flow of sand and sediment from the river and the lakeshore north of their properties, interrupting the natural littoral drift and leading to increased erosion on their properties. In 1958, the Corps released a study that documented increased erosion in certain areas. Following another study, a mitigation plan was implemented in 1976, using fine sand. After 15 years of beach nourishment, efforts shifted to using coarser sediment; in 1995, the Corps dumped large rocks into the lake. The Corps released reports in 1973, 1996, 1997, and 1999 on the erosive effects of the jetties and the progress of mitigation. There was also a 1998 newspaper article concerning the erosion. In 1999, plaintiffs filed suit, alleging takings, 28 U.S.C. 1491. The Claims Court dismissed the actions as time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the court clearly erred in finding that plaintiffs knew or should have known of their claims before 1952 and violated the mandate of a previous remand. View "Banks v. United States" on Justia Law

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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. In 2012, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that government-induced flooding can qualify as a Fifth Amendment taking, even if temporary in duration. On remand, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court, after addressing the issues noted by the Supreme Court: whether the injury was caused by authorized government action, whether the injury was a foreseeable result of that action, and whether the injury constituted a sufficiently severe invasion that interfered with the owner’s reasonable expectations as to the use of the land. View "AR Game & Fish Comm'n v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own properties surrounded by or adjacent to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the largest national forest in California, encompassing approximately 2.1 million acres. In 2008 the “Iron Complex” wildfires burned within the Forest. The U.S. Forest Service intentionally lit fires to reduce unburned timber that might fuel the fires, causing destruction of 1,782 acres of marketable timber on plaintiffs’ properties. Plaintiffs alleged a taking for which they should be compensated. The district court dismissed, citing the doctrine of necessity, which absolves the government from liability for any taking or destruction of property in efforts to fight fires. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, reasoning that not every action taken for the purpose of fire prevention is protected by the necessity doctrine. The facts pled in the complaint do not demonstrate that the Iron Complex fire created an imminent danger and an actual emergency necessitating the burning of 1,782 acres. View "TrinCo Inv. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Casitas Water District operates the Ventura River Project, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and provides water to Ventura County, California, using dams, reservoirs, a canal, pump stations, and many miles of pipeline. In 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the West Coast steelhead trout as an endangered species and determined that the primary cause of its decline was loss of habitat due to water development, including impassable dams. Casitas faced liability if continued operation of the Project resulted in harm to the steelhead, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1), 1540(a)–(b). In 2003, NMFS issued a biological opinion concerning operation of a fish ladder to relieve Casitas of liability. Casitas opened the Robles fish ladder, then filed suit, asserting that the biological opinion operating criteria breached its 1956 Contract with the government or amounted to uncompensated taking of Casitas’s property. The Claims Court dismissed, citing the sovereign acts doctrine. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of the contract claim, but reversed dismissal of Casitas’s takings claim. The court again dismissed, holding that Casitas had failed to show that the operating criteria had thus far resulted in any reduction of water deliveries, so a takings claim was not yet ripe. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Casitas Mun. Water Dist. v. United States" on Justia Law