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The surface and mineral estates of “Tract 46” in Pike County, Kentucky have been severed for a century. Pike and Johnson own the surface estate as tenants in common. Pike also owns the entirety of the coal below and wants to mine. In 2013, Pike granted its affiliate a right to enter the land and commence surface mining. Despite Johnson’s protestations, Kentucky granted a surface mining permit. Mining commenced in April 2014. In 2014, as the result of a federal lawsuit, the Secretary of the Interior determined that the permit violated the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), 30 U.S.C. 1250. The deficiencies in the original permit were remedied; Kentucky issued an amended permit the same year. The Secretary then confirmed that the permit complied with federal law. Johnson sued again. An ALJ, the district court, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, first finding that Johnson exhausted its administrative remedies to the extent required by SMCRA. The ALJ’s application of Kentucky co-tenancy law, instead of the state’s rules of construction for vague severance deeds, to uphold the issuance of Elkhorn’s permit and the Secretary’s termination of the cessation order was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. View "M.L. Johnson Family Properties, LLC v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision and order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving an amended power purchase agreement (PPA) between Hawai'i Electric Light Company, Inc. (HELCO) and Hu Honua Bioenergy, LLC, pursuant to which Hu Honua would construct and operate a biomass-field energy production facility and HELCO would purchase energy from the facility, holding that the PUC failed explicitly to consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in determining whether to approve the amended PPA and denied Life of the Land due process during the underlying proceedings. LOL, an environmental nonprofit organization, sought to intervene as a party in the PUC's proceeding in order to address the environmental impacts of the proposed facility. The PUC granted LOL limited participation in the proceeding and then approved the amended PPA. The Supreme Court vacated the PUC's order, holding (1) this Court has jurisdiction to consider LOL's appeal; (2) the PUC erred by failing explicitly to consider the reduction of GHG emissions in approving the amended PPA, as required by statute; and (3) the PUC denied LOL due process to protect its interest in a clean and healthful environment by restricting its participation in the proceeding. View "In re Application of Hawai'i Electric Light Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that the Public Service Law, in authorizing the Public Service Commission (PSC) to set the conditions under which public utilities will transport consumer-owned electricity and gas, authorized the PSC to issue an order that conditioned access to public utility infrastructure by energy service companies (ESCOs) upon ESCOs capping their prices in a certain manner. In 2016, the PSC issued the order challenged in this case that conditioned ESCOs' access to public utility infrastructure upon ESCOs capping their prices such that, on an annual basis, they charge no more for electricity than is charged by public utilities unless thirty percent of the energy is derived from renewable sources. Petitioners - ESCOs and their representative trade associations - commenced these two separate proceedings - combined N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 proceedings and actions for declaratory judgment - seeking a declaration that the order was void and a a permanent injunction enjoin the PSC from enforcing the order. Supreme Court granted the petitions to the extent of vacating the challenged provisions of the order. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed. The Court of Appeals modified the Appellate Division's orders, holding that the PSC did not exceed its statutory authority or violate Petitioners' constitutional rights in issuing the order. View "National Energy Marketers Ass'n v New York State Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in granting more than 300 applications for permits to drill horizontal, multi-stage hydraulically fracked wells in the Mancos Shale area of the San Juan Basin in northeastern New Mexico. Appellants, four environmental advocacy groups) sued the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Secretary of the BLM, alleging that the BLM authorized the drilling without fully considering its indirect and cumulative impacts on the environment or on historic properties. The district court denied Appellants a preliminary injunction, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision in 2016. After merits briefing, the district court concluded that the BLM had not violated either NHPA or NEPA and dismissed Appellants’ claims with prejudice. Appellants appealed, and this time, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The Tenth Circuit determined that, as to five EAs, Appellants have demonstrated that the BLM needed to, but did not, consider the cumulative impacts of water resources associated with 3,960 reasonably foreseeable horizontal Mancos Shale wells. The BLM’s issuance of FONSIs and approval of APDs associated with these EAs was therefore arbitrary and capricious and violated NEPA. The matter was remanded for the district court to vacate the FONSIs and APDs associated with those five environmental analyses; the Tenth Circuit affirmed as to all other issues. View "Dine Citizens v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Defendant Chaparral Energy, L.L.C. (Chaparral) operated approximately 2,500 oil and gas wells in Oklahoma. Plaintiffs Naylor Farms, Inc. and Harrel’s, L.L.C. (collectively, Naylor Farms) had royalty interests in some of those wells. According to Naylor Farms, Chaparral systematically underpaid Naylor Farms and other similarly situated royalty owners by improperly deducting from their royalty payments certain gas-treatment costs that Naylor Farms contended Chaparral was required to shoulder under Oklahoma law. Naylor Farms brought a putative class-action lawsuit against Chaparral and moved to certify the class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted Naylor Farms’ motion to certify, and Chaparral appealed the district court’s certification order. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Chaparral failed to demonstrate the district court’s decision to certify the class fell outside “the bounds of rationally available choices given the facts and law involved in the matter at hand.” View "Naylor Farms v. Chaparral Energy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality does not have the discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), devices the Legislature considers "pollution control property," holding that the Legislature did not exceed its constitutional authority in exempting pollution control property from taxation. Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. filed for an exemption seeking a positive use determination for the HRSG used in two of its facilities. The Commission's Executive Director issued negative use determinations for the applications on the grounds that HRSGs are not eligible for a positive use determination. The Commission eventually affirmed the determinations as to both facilities. The trial court affirmed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) under Texas Tax Code 11.31, property that qualifies as pollution control property, is entitled to a tax exemption, and HRSGs qualify, at least in part, as pollution control property; and (2) thus, assuming the applicant otherwise complies with the statute's requirements, the Executive Director may not issue a negative use determination for HRSGs. View "Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the district court's judgment affirming the negative use determinations issued by the Commission on Environmental Quality as to Respondents' applications for tax exemptions for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), holding that Texas Tax Code 11.31 does not give the Commission and its Executive Director discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for HRSGs. In Brazos Electric Power Cooperative v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), also issued today, the Supreme Court held that the Legislature has deemed HRSGs to qualify at least in part as "pollution control property" entitled to an exemption. The Court further held in Brazos Electric that the Commission abused its discretion by issuing negative use determinations for two exemption applications involving HRSGs when the applications complied with relevant statutory requirements. In the instant case, the Commission issued negative use determinations for Petitioners' applications for tax exemptions for HRSGs. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly held that the Commission may not issue negative use determinations for HRSGs. View "Texas Commission on Environmental Quality v. Brazos Valley Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment granting summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims challenging the decisions of a county board of supervisors approving a wind energy ordinance and a specific wind energy project, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were matters for the board of supervisors, and not the courts, to resolve. The board unanimously passed and approved a "wind energy conversion systems ordinance" and then granted conditional approval for the wind energy project at issue in this case. Plaintiffs then filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief and for a writ of certiorari against the board seeking a declaration that the ordinance was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, void and unenforceable and a writ determining that the approval of the project should be set aside as illegal, arbitrary and capricious, unreasonable and void. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the board did not act illegally, arbitrarily, or capriciously. View "Mathis v. Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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More than eight hundred appellants, who assert various contract and tort claims arising out of the Deepwater Horizon oil clean-up, are divided into two groups: the Lindsay Appellants and the D'Amico Appellants. Both groups of appellants appealed their dismissals with prejudice for failure to follow the district court's order requiring they file individual complaints. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court had authority to issue the order as a sensible means of managing multi-district litigation and to dismiss the parties' claims with prejudice for disobeying docket management orders. However, the court did not find the clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the D'Amico Appellants required to justify a dismissal-with-prejudice sanction. In this case, the D'Amico Appellants had a flawed understanding of PTO 63 and showed an absence of willful conduct. Accordingly, the court reversed as to the D'Amico Appellants and affirmed as to the Lindsay Appellants. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Graham v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the determination of the Board of Equalization and Review that Petitioners Murray Energy Corporation and Consolidation Coal Company's coal interests were properly valued and assessed by Defendants, holding that the circuit court properly concluded that the method of valuing coal properties violated neither the statutory requirement of assessment at "true and actual value" nor the constitutional equality requirements of the West Virginia Constitution and the equal protection provisions of the United States and West Virginia Constitutions. Specifically, the Court held (1) the methodology of valuing Petitioners' coal properties for ad valorem tax valuation purposes, as set forth in West Virginia Code of State Rules 110-1I-1 et seq., does not violate the requirement set forth in W. Va. Code 11-6K-1(a) that natural resources property be assessed based upon its "true and actual value"; and (2) the valuation methodology contained in the Code of State Rules does not violate the equality provision of W. Va. Const. art. X, 1 or the equal protection provisions of the United States and West Virginia Constitutions. View "Murray Energy Corp. v. Steager" on Justia Law