Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
In re Petition of Vermont Gas Systems, Inc.
In this case, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Vermont Public Utility Commission approving a contract under 30 V.S.A. § 248(i) for the purchase of out-of-state renewable natural gas by Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS). The contract, which was proposed to last for fourteen-and-a-half years, required VGS to purchase a minimum volume of renewable natural gas that would be produced and transported from a landfill in New York. The contract was part of VGS's efforts to invest in nonfossil gas and incorporate renewable natural gas into its gas supply to meet regulatory requirements and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The appellant, Catherine Bock, a ratepaying customer of VGS, challenged the Commission's findings with respect to the contract’s contribution towards satisfying emissions reductions under the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020. Bock also disputed the Commission’s finding that the contract, with a condition imposed by the Commission, would comply with least-cost planning principles.The court rejected Bock's arguments, finding that the Commission's conclusions were supported by the evidence in the record and were not clearly erroneous. The court noted that the contract was only one of VGS's strategies to reduce emissions pursuant to the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020. It also pointed out that there was sufficient evidence to support the Commission's determination that the contract was cost-effective and consistent with least-cost planning principles. View "In re Petition of Vermont Gas Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
DC v. Exxon Mobil Corporation
In this case, the District of Columbia sued Exxon Mobil Corporation and several other energy companies, alleging that these companies violated District law by making material misstatements about their products' effects on climate change. The energy companies removed the case to a federal district court, which determined it lacked jurisdiction and sent the case back to a local court. The energy companies then appealed that decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the case was properly remanded. The Court of Appeals held that the case did not fall under federal jurisdiction because the District of Columbia based its lawsuit on a local consumer protection statute, not a federal cause of action. The energy companies' arguments essentially amounted to federal defenses, which the court held were insufficient to establish federal jurisdiction over the District's claims.The court also rejected the companies' argument that the case could be moved to a federal court under the "artful pleading" doctrine, which allows federal courts to hear cases where the plaintiff has attempted to avoid federal jurisdiction by carefully crafting their complaint to avoid mentioning federal law. The court held that this doctrine didn't apply because the energy companies couldn't rely on federal common law governing air pollution since it had been displaced by the Clean Air Act.Finally, the court rejected the companies' arguments that the case could be removed to federal court under the federal officer removal statute and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The court found that the companies failed to demonstrate a sufficient connection between their actions under color of federal office and the District's suit, and that the District's claims did not arise out of or connect with operations conducted on the Outer Continental Shelf. View "DC v. Exxon Mobil Corporation" on Justia Law
Mont. Environmental Information Center v. Westmoreland Rosebud Mining
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court ruling in favor of the Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club (collectively, Conservation Groups) and vacating the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) permit for Westmoreland Rosebud Mining, LLC's proposed coal mine expansion, holding that the Board of Environmental Review (Board) made several errors when it upheld DEQ's findings.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred in concluding that reversal of the burden of proof was prejudicial error; (2) the Board committed reversible error in limiting the Conservation Groups' evidence and argument; (3) the district court erred in determining that it was reversible error to admit certain testimony as proper rebuttal; (4) the Board erred when it concluded that no water quality standard violation could occur; (5) the Board properly considered cumulative impact of mining activity in its analysis; (6) the Board properly relied on evidence regarding aquatic life; (7) the attorney fee award was improper; and (8) the district court erred in ruling that the Board was properly included as a party on judicial review. View "Mont. Environmental Information Center v. Westmoreland Rosebud Mining" on Justia Law
City & County of Honolulu v. Sunoco LP
The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the circuit court denying Defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim in this action brought by the City and County of Honolulu and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (collectively, Plaintiffs) against a number of oil and gas producers (collectively, Defendants), holding that there was no error.Plaintiffs sued Defendants alleging public nuisance, private nuisance, strict liability failure to warn, negligent failure to warn, and trespass. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants engaged in a deceptive promotion campaign and misled the public about the dangers and environmental impact of using their fossil fuel products. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that Plaintiffs' claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Supreme Court denied the motions, holding (1) Defendants were subject to specific jurisdiction in Hawai'i; (2) the CAA displaced federal common law governing interstate pollution damages suit, and following displacement, federal common law did and does not preempt state law; and (3) the CAA did not preempt Plaintiffs' claims. View "City & County of Honolulu v. Sunoco LP" on Justia Law
IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE, ET AL V. BPA
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is a federal agency tasked with selling the power generated at various hydroelectric facilities in the Pacific Northwest. In the decision on review, BPA set its rates for the 2022–2023 fiscal period. Environmental groups now petition for a review of that decision, arguing that BPA failed to comply with a pair of statutory duties in the Northwest Power Act relating to fish and wildlife. The Ninth Circuit denied the petition. The panel held that petitioners had Article III standing. First, petitioners have alleged injury, in fact where they are interested in the fish populations in the Columbia River Basin, and ongoing harm to these fish populations inflicts an injury on petitioners’ members. Second, any harm to the fish populations is traceable to BPA’s BP-22 ratemaking. Third, Petitioners have adequately alleged redressability where it is a reasonable inference from the historical record that Petitioners’ injuries would be at least partially redressed by a favorable decision on the merits. Turning to the merits, the panel held that the text and structure of the NWPA as a whole convincingly provide that NWEPA Section 4(h)(11)(A) does not apply to rate making where that provision does not mention ratemaking, and other features of the statutory scheme buttress this conclusion. View "IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE, ET AL V. BPA" on Justia Law
Sound Rivers, Inc. v. N.C. Dep’t of Environmental Quality
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) from the Office of Administrative Hearings affirming the decision of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources (Division) to issue a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit to Martin Marietta Materials, Inc., holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.The permit at issue allowed Martin Marietta to discharge twelve million gallons of mining wastewater per day from Vanceboro Quarry into Blounts Creek tributaries. The ALJ affirmed the issuance of the permit. The superior court reversed, concluding that the Division failed to ensure "reasonable compliance with the biological integrity standard." The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the permit was properly and validly issued in accordance with the applicable regulations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ALJ properly made findings of fact and properly applied those facts to a correct interpretation of the regulatory plain language. View "Sound Rivers, Inc. v. N.C. Dep't of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law
EEE Minerals, LLC v. State of North Dakota
EEE Minerals, LLC, and a Trustee for The Vohs Family Revocable Living Trust, sued the State of North Dakota, the Board of University and School Lands, and the Board’s commissioner in a dispute over mineral interests in McKenzie County, North Dakota. Plaintiffs alleged that state law related to mineral ownership was preempted by federal law and that the defendants had engaged in an unconstitutional taking of the plaintiffs’ mineral interests. Plaintiffs sought damages, an injunction, and declaratory relief. The district court dismissed the action. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs contend that the Flood Control Act impliedly preempts the North Dakota statute because the state law “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” The court explained that it is not convinced that the State’s determination of a high-water mark, and the attendant settling of property rights under state law, stands as an obstacle to accomplishing the objectives of the Flood Control Act. The court wrote that the interests of the United States and the goals of the Flood Control Act are unaffected by a dispute between the State and a private party over mineral rights that were not acquired by the federal government. Further, the court explained that Plaintiffs have not established that the United States will be prevented from flooding or inundating any land covered by the 1957 deed in which the State claims ownership of mineral interests under state law. The Flood Control Act would not dictate that property rights be assigned to Plaintiffs. View "EEE Minerals, LLC v. State of North Dakota" on Justia Law
State of Texas v. NRC
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asserted that it has authority under the Atomic Energy Act to license temporary, away from reactor storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel. Based on that claim of authority, the Commission issued a license for Interim Storage Partners, LLC, to operate a temporary storage facility on the Permian Basin.Fasken Land and Minerals, Ltd., and Permian Basin Land and Royalty Owners (“PBLRO”) petitioned for review of the license. As did the State of Texas, arguing that the Atomic Energy Act doesn’t confer authority on the Commission to license such a facility.The Fifth Circuit granted Texas’ petition for review and vacated the license, finding that the Atomic Energy Act does not confer on the Commission the broad authority it claims to issue licenses for private parties to store spent nuclear fuel away from the reactor. And the Nuclear Waste Policy Act establishes a comprehensive statutory scheme for dealing with nuclear waste generated from commercial nuclear power generation, thereby foreclosing the Commission’s claim of authority. View "State of Texas v. NRC" on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. United States Bureau of Land Management, et al.
Three conservation groups challenged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of Jonah Energy’s development project on state and federal land in Wyoming. The project was designed to drill exploratory wells on land for which Jonah possessed development rights. The conservation groups argued the district court erred in upholding the BLM’s approval under the National Environmental Protection Act and the Federal Land Polocy and Management Act. Specifically, they contended the BLM inadequately considered the impact of the project on the sage-grouse and pronghorn antelope migration and grazing patterns. The Tenth Circuit concluded the BLM adequately collected and considered information on the sage-grouse and pronghorn, and selected a development plan that met statutory requirements. View "Western Watersheds Project, et al. v. United States Bureau of Land Management, et al." on Justia Law
Secretary of Labor v. KC Transport, Inc.
MSHA’s jurisdiction, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that for the list of items in Section 802(h)(1)(C) to be considered a “mine,” the items had to be located at an extraction site, or the roads appurtenant thereto. Because neither the trucks nor the facility associated with the citations at issue were located on land covered under subsections (A)–(B), the Commission found they failed to constitute a “mine” and vacated the citations. The Commission also found that, as an independent contractor not engaged in servicing a mine at the time of the citation, KC Transport failed to qualify as an “operator” under Section 802(d) of the Mine Act. The Secretary of Labor (“the Secretary”), acting through MSHA, appealed the Commission’s decision and asked the court to uphold the two citations as an appropriate exercise of the Secretary’s jurisdiction under the Mine Act. In the Secretary’s view, subsection (C) of the “mine” definition covers KC Transport’s facility and trucks because they were “used in” mining activity. The DC Circuit vacated and remanded the Commission’s decision, allowing the Secretary to interpret the statute’s ambiguous language. The court explained that given the Mine Act’s language, context, and the court’s binding precedent, it finds that the Commission erred in its interpretation of the “mine” and “operator” definitions. And we generally defer to the Secretary’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute—even when the Commission disagrees. But here, the Secretary’s position treats subsection (C) as 4 unambiguous and makes no meaningful effort to address the numerous practical concerns that would arise under such an interpretation. View "Secretary of Labor v. KC Transport, Inc." on Justia Law