Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facilities Siting Board approving a project change petition filed by NSTAR Electric Company, doing business as Eversource Energy, that would move the boundaries of an electric substation 190 feet from the location that had previously been approved, holding that the Board did not err in approving the project change.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Board did not err in determining that GreenRoots, Inc. did not satisfy the applicable legal standard for the reopening of a completed adjudicatory proceeding; (2) the Board complied with the statutory and regulatory requirements regarding public participation and environmental justice; and (3) the Board's conclusion that Eversource reasonably addressed risks from future sea level rise under the circumstances was supported by substantial evidence. View "GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) that approved a petition filed by the Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) to obtain a rate-adjustment clause pursuant to Va. Code 56-585.1(A)(5)(e), holding that, contrary to the arguments brought by Applalachian Voices on appeal, the SCC applied the proper legal standard governing such requests.VEPCO made its request to recover projected costs of purchasing allowances through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade market regulating carbon dioxide emissions by electric utilities. On appeal, Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit environmental organization, argued that the SCC failed to apply the law when it approved VEPCO's petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the SCC did not misunderstand or fail o apply the legal standard governing petitions filed pursuant to Va. Code 56-585.1(A)(5)(e). View "Appalachian Voices v. State Corp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In an issue of first impression for the Louisiana Supreme Court, was what prescriptive period, if any, was applicable to a citizen suit for injunctive relief pursuant to LSA-R.S. 30:16 suit. Justin Tureau instituted a citizen suit pursuant to LSA-R.S. 30:16, alleging that defendants drilled and operated numerous oil and gas wells on his property, or on adjacent property, as well as constructed and used unlined earthen pits. Specifically, Tureau alleged that said unlined pits were either never closed, or were not closed in conformance with environmental rules and regulations, including Statewide Order 29-B, L.A.C. 43:XIX.101, et seq, which, among other things, requires the registration and closure of existing unlined oilfield pits, as well as the remediation of various enumerated contaminants in the soil to certain minimum standards. The Supreme Court held that a LSA-R.S. 30:16 citizen suit was not subject to liberative prescription. The Court further found that, insofar as the petition alleges that defendants violated conservation laws, rules, regulations, or orders, the allegations were sufficient to defeat an exception of no cause of action. The Court therefore affirmed the appeals court ruling, which overruled defendants’ exceptions of prescription, overruled the exceptions of no cause of action, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Louisiana v. Pilcher" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s own written decision indicated the EPA concluded that the statutory and regulatory definitions of “small refinery” did not provide specific “guidance []or limits” on how the terms “refinery” and “average aggregate daily crude oil throughput” should have been “evaluated.” Accordingly, the EPA proceeded as though it “ha[d] discretion to choose what factors and information it w[ould] consider in this evaluation.” The EPA’s decisions to deny an extension of a temporary exemption to “small refineries” from complying with the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program were reversed and remanded. "That does not mean that the EPA could not again arrive at the same conclusion. But, to do so, the EPA would need to (a) either consider and apply its own regulatory definition of “facility” to the circumstances presented here or explain why that regulatory definition is inapplicable, (b) provide clear guidance on its integration analysis, to the extent it continues to rely on that factor, and (c) omit any consideration of Suncor’s management structure or public statements unless it can demonstrate that those factors are somehow consistent with, and have a reasonable connection to, the statutory and regulatory definitions of the term “refinery.” View "Suncor Energy v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Delaware River Basin Commission banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the Delaware River Basin, reflecting its determination that fracking “poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the [Basin’s] water resources.” The ban codified a “de facto moratorium” on natural gas extraction in the Basin since 2010. Two Pennsylvania state senators, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus, and several Pennsylvania municipalities challenged the ban, alleging that the Commission exceeded its authority under the Delaware River Basin Compact, violated the Takings Clause, illegally exercised the power of eminent domain, and violated the Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. No plaintiff alleged the kinds of injuries that Article III demands. Legislative injuries claimed by the state senators and the Republican Caucus affect the state legislature as a whole; under Supreme Court precedent, “individual members lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature.” The municipalities alleged economic injuries that are “conjectural” and “hypothetical” rather than “actual and imminent.” None of the plaintiffs have standing as trustees of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources under the Pennsylvania Constitution's Environmental Rights Amendment because the fracking ban has not cognizably harmed the trust. View "Yaw v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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Delaware and Hoboken, New Jersey each sued the oil companies in state court for state-law torts. By “produc[ing], marketing, and s[e]l[ling] fossil fuels,” they claimed, the oil companies worsened climate change. They sought damages for the environmental harm they had suffered and injunctions to stop future harm. The oil companies removed the cases to federal district courts. The suits’ broad focus on “global climate change,” the companies reasoned, “demand[ed] resolution by a federal court under federal law.”. They argued the tort claims arose under federal law, either because they were inherently federal, not state claims, or they raised substantive federal issues; the suits related to producing oil on the Outer Continental Shelf; and the oil companies were acting under federal officers.The Third Circuit affirmed the remands of the cases to state courts, noting that four other circuits have refused to allow the oil companies to remove similar state tort suits to federal court. These lawsuits neither are inherently federal nor raise substantial federal issues that belong in federal court. Oil production on the Outer Continental Shelf is too many steps removed from the burning of fuels that causes climate change. Delaware and Hoboken are not suing over actions that the companies were directed to take by federal officers. View "City of Hoboken v. Chevron Corp" on Justia Law

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Chevron U.S.A. Inc. intends to decommission two oil platforms located off the coast of California. The activity of those platforms is generally subject to the Clean Air Act. Chevron asked the Environmental Protection Agency for guidance on whether, as the process of decommissioning the two oil platforms moves forward, the platforms will cease to qualify as regulated sources under the Clean Air Act. EPA responded in a letter to Chevron. Unsatisfied with the views set out in EPA’s letter, Chevron now seeks judicial review of EPA’s response.The DC Circuit dismissed Chevron’s petition for review. The court wrote that it does not reach the merits of Chevron’s petition for review. In the circumstances of this case, the Clean Air Act’s venue provision allows for judicial review in this court only if EPA’s challenged action is “nationally applicable,” as opposed to “locally or regionally applicable.” 42 U.S.C. Section 7607(b)(1). The court concluded that EPA’s response letter is locally or regionally applicable, and that venue over Chevron’s challenge lies exclusively in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. View "Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Ohio Power Siting Board to approve the application of Icebreaker Windpower, Inc. for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to build a six-turbine wind-powered electric-generation facility in Lake Erie, holding that Appellants did not meet their burden of demonstrating that the Board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) there was sufficient evidence in the record before the Board for it to determine the nature of the probable environmental impact of the project under Ohio Rev. Code 4906.10(A)(2) and whether the project represented the minimum adverse environmental impact under Ohio Rev. Code 4906.10(A)(3); and (2) the Board did not err in determining that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the residents' public-trust argument. View "In re Application of Icebreaker Windpower, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Oglala Sioux Tribe and its nonprofit association Aligning for Responsible Mining seek a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant Powertech (USA), Inc., a source material license to extract uranium from ore beds in South Dakota. The Tribe maintains that the Commission failed to meet its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.   The DC Circuit denied the Tribe’s petition because the Commission adequately complied with the relevant statutory and regulatory requirements. The court explained that the Tribe failed to demonstrate any NEPA deficiencies that require setting aside the Commission’s decisions.   First, the Tribe argues the agency did not adequately consult with the Tribe. The Tribe’s refusal to participate in the 2013 Survey and its challenges to the opportunity the Tribe was, in fact, afforded. The Commission satisfied its consultation obligations under the NHPA. Second, the Tribe maintains the agency impermissibly failed to survey the Dewey-Burdock area for the Tribe’s historic properties. NHPA regulations permit an agency to conduct a survey as part of its efforts to identify historic properties, but agencies are free to use a survey or some other method to gather information. Finally, the Tribe suggests the agency impermissibly postponed identifying historic properties until after Powertech had begun operations. NHPA regulations, however, expressly contemplate this approach. View "Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC" on Justia Law