Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The case involves a dispute over the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to implement a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) to regulate emissions in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had initially submitted a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to the EPA for approval, as required by the Clean Air Act. The EPA initially approved the plan, but the approval was later vacated by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which directed the EPA to either approve a new state-made plan or formulate a new federal plan within two years. The EPA decided to create its own plan, which was challenged by the Commonwealth and one of the three coal power companies affected by the plan.The petitioners argued that the EPA exceeded its statutory authority when it promulgated the plan and that the plan was arbitrary and capricious because the EPA failed to show its work. However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that the EPA acted in accordance with the Clean Air Act and denied the petition for review. The court held that the EPA properly exercised its authority under the Clean Air Act by partially disapproving the 2016 SIP and promulgating the FIP. The court also held that the contents of the FIP were not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of the EPA’s discretion. View "Keystone-Conemaugh Projects LLC v. EPA" on Justia Law

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A group of petitioners, including several municipalities, private individuals, and organizations, challenged the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) approval of a new terminal for the Trenton-Mercer Airport. The petitioners alleged that the FAA’s decision violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to fully consider the environmental impact of the new terminal, among other things. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the FAA had adequately considered the environmental impact of the new terminal and had not violated NEPA. The court found that the FAA reasonably concluded that the new terminal would not induce additional air traffic, and therefore, would not result in increased noise or air pollution. The court also found that the FAA had conducted a reasonable environmental justice analysis and did not need to perform a health risk assessment. The Court of Appeals denied the petitioners' request to review the FAA's decision. View "Trenton Threatened Skies Inc v. FAA" on Justia Law

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The Center for Biological Diversity challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of certain air pollution control technology for use at various Pennsylvania industrial facilities. The Center argues that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, by focusing exclusively on emissions from those facilities instead of examining their impact on air quality more generally and that, even if the EPA is permitted to base its approvals on an emissions-only analysis, it incorrectly concluded that emissions would not be increased by Pennsylvania’s pollution control technologies at issue.The Third Circuit denied petitions for review, interpreting the relevant statutory provisions to permit the EPA’s chosen emissions-based approach. The court reasoned that emissions were the sole air quality variable implicated by Pennsylvania’s revisions of its state implementation plan under the Act; it was therefore not arbitrary for the EPA to use an emissions-based analysis. It was not arbitrary for the EPA to use prior permitting standards, instead of presumptive Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT), as the emissions baseline for its comparative emissions analysis. The Center’s alternative challenges were procedurally and substantively deficient. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Port Hamilton Refinery purchased an existing St. Croix petroleum refinery at a 2021 bankruptcy auction, hoping to resume operations. The Refinery had for decades served as the backbone of St. Croix’s local economy until it ceased operations in 2012. Months later, the EPA notified Port Hamilton that it would need a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit before the Refinery could resume operations.The PSD program is part of the Clean Air Act (CAA); a facility must not contribute to the violation of applicable air quality standards and must implement the “best available control technology” to limit air pollution, 42 U.S.C. 7475(a), 7479(3). PSD applies to newly constructed stationary sources of air pollution and sources that undergo emissions-altering modifications. Under EPA’s “Reactivation Policy,” an existing facility is “new” if EPA concludes that it had previously been “shut down” and restarted. If the EPA determines that the facility had only been “idled,” it need not obtain a permit.In 2018, EPA notified the Refinery’s prior owner that it need not obtain a PSD permit because the Refinery had been only “idled” since 2012. In 2022, EPA reversed course. The Third Circuit vacated the EPA decision. The Reactivation Policy, as applied to the Refinery, exceeds EPA’s statutory authority. View "Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation LLLP v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program requires gasoline and diesel fuel refiners, blenders, and importers to ensure that a certain portion of their annual transportation fuel production consists of renewable fuels, 42 U.S.C. 7545(o)). United, a small Pennsylvania refinery, has periodically received hardship exemptions from those requirements, including in the 2017 and 2018 compliance years. In 2019, United sought an exemption. Rather than accepting United's data at face value—as in previous years—EPA asked how United had accounted for the financial benefit of its 2018 RFS exemption. United's amended financial statement explained that revenue from selling its renewable fuel credits (RINS) generated in a particular year was included in net revenues for that year, even if the RINs actually were sold in a later calendar year. United’s amended figures showed a three-year refining margin that was higher than the margin in United’s original submission and higher than the industry average. The Department of Energy (DOE) evaluated United’s submission and initially recommended that United not receive an exemption. DOE later changed its recommendation to account for the effects of COVID-19 and suggested a 50 percent exemption for 2019.EPA denied United any exemption, declining to consider events “that did not emerge until 2020, the year after the petition in question.” The Third Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting United’s argument that EPA arbitrarily relied on an “accounting trick” that artificially inflated United’s running average net refining margin. View "United Refining Co v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conditionally approved Adelphia’s application under 15 U.S.C. 717f(c), the Natural Gas Act, to acquire, construct, and operate an interstate natural gas pipeline system. As part of that project, Adelphia sought to construct a compressor station in West Rockhill Township and applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to demonstrate compliance with the Federal Clean Air Act and Pennsylvania’s Air Pollution Control Act. The DEP granted Plan Approval.Adelphia successfully moved to dismiss appeals to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, arguing that federal courts of appeals have original and exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to environmental permits issued by the DEP. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed, reasoning that administrative proceedings are not “civil actions” and that the Natural Gas Act did not preempt the Board from exercising its jurisdiction. Adelphia then filed suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania requesting that it enjoin the Board from acting. Adelphia also appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.The district court dismissed Adelphia’s suit, holding that the issue preclusion doctrine bars Adelphia from bringing a federal action premised on arguments the Commonwealth Court rejected. The Third Circuit affirmed. Adelphia’s challenge impermissibly seeks to relitigate an issue decided by the Commonwealth Court. View "Adelphia Gateway LLC v. Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board" 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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The Clean Water Act empowers citizens to sue for violations of the Act, 33 U.S.C. 1365(a)(1); a citizen-suit plaintiff must “give[] notice of the alleged violation” to the “alleged violator,” and also to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to the state in which the alleged violation occurs. After the plaintiff has provided the required notice, it must wait 60 days before suing, to give the alleged violator an opportunity to bring itself into complete compliance. Shark River Cleanup Coalition, a non-profit citizen’s group, delivered a notice letter alleging a Clean Water Act violation.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Coalition's subsequent suit. Under the applicable regulation, Notice regarding an alleged violation “shall include sufficient information to permit the recipient to identify the specific standard, limitation, or order alleged to have been violated, the activity alleged to constitute a violation, the person or persons responsible for the alleged violation, the location of the alleged violation, the date or dates of such violation, and the full name, address, and telephone number of the person giving notice, 40 C.F.R. 135.3(a). The Coalition’s Notice was deficient in that it did not “include sufficient information to permit [Defendants] to identify the specific standard, limitation, or order alleged to have been violated[.]” View "Shark River Cleanup Coalition v. Township of Wall" 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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Following two fires at its steel plant, U.S. Steel polluted the air. Because that pollution violated its Clean Air Act permits and regulations, it reported the incidents to the local officials who enforce that Act, the Allegheny County Health Department. The Clean Air Council, an environmental watchdog, sued, arguing that under CERCLA, U.S. Steel should have reported the pollution to the federal government too. CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) exempts from reporting any “federally permitted” emissions, 42 U.S.C. 9603, including emissions “subject to” certain Clean Air Act permits and regulations. The Council argued that “subject to” means “obedient to” so that an emission cannot be “subject to” a permit or regulation that it violates.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. In context, “subject to” means “governed or affected by.” Since U.S. Steel’s emissions were governed by a Clean Air Act permit, that means they were “federally permitted” under CERCLA and exempt from federal reporting. View "Clean Air Council v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law