Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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The case involves a dispute over the construction of an offshore wind project aimed at reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The project, proposed by Vineyard Wind 1, LLC, was expected to provide energy sufficient to power 400,000 Massachusetts homes. However, residents of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket opposed the project, arguing that federal agencies failed to properly assess the potential impact of the project on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.Previously, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts had granted summary judgment in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Vineyard Wind, rejecting the residents' challenge to a biological opinion issued by the NMFS and relied on by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in permitting the construction of the wind power project.In the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the residents challenged the lower court's decision, arguing that the NMFS's determination that the incidental harassment of up to twenty right whales constituted a "small number" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful. They also argued that NMFS's consideration of the "specified activity" and the "specific geographic region" within which that activity would occur for purposes of issuing the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Vineyard Wind was impermissibly narrow in scope.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that the NMFS's determination was not arbitrary or capricious and that it had properly delineated the "specific geographic region" for the purposes of the IHA. The court also found that the residents' concerns about the broader effect of the project on the right whale population were unwarranted, as the agency had considered the impact on the entire right whale population in its "negligible impact" analysis, its biological opinion, and in its participation in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Environmental Impact Statement. View "Melone v. Coit" on Justia Law

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A group of Nantucket residents, organized as Nantucket Residents Against Turbines, challenged the approval of the Vineyard Wind project by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The project involves the construction of a wind power facility off the coast of Massachusetts. The residents alleged that the federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by concluding that the project's construction would not jeopardize the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. They also claimed that BOEM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by relying on a flawed analysis by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which granted summary judgment in favor of the federal agencies. The court found that NMFS and BOEM had followed the law in analyzing the right whale's current status and environmental baseline, the likely effects of the Vineyard Wind project on the right whale, and the efficacy of measures to mitigate those effects. The court also found that the agencies' analyses rationally supported their conclusion that Vineyard Wind would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the right whale.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The appellate court found that the lower court had correctly interpreted the law and that the federal agencies had not violated the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. The court concluded that the agencies' analyses were rational and that their conclusion that the Vineyard Wind project would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the right whale was supported by the evidence. View "Nantucket Residents Against Turbines v. U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Town of Milton, Massachusetts, petitioned for a judicial review of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) final order authorizing a new flight procedure at Boston's Logan International Airport. The new procedure, aimed at increasing safety and efficiency, covers a narrower swath of airspace over the Town of Milton. The Town argued that the FAA's environmental analysis of the noise impacts failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However, the United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit dismissed the Town's petition, ruling that the Town does not have standing to challenge the FAA's final order. The court concluded that the harms the Town asserted, including the impact of noise on its residents and the time and money spent addressing these issues, were not legally cognizable harms to the Town itself. The court agreed with other courts of appeals that have dismissed municipal NEPA challenges to FAA orders for lack of Article III standing because those challenges failed to show cognizable injury to the municipalities themselves. View "Milton, MA v. FAA" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit denied Petitioners' petition objecting to a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and affirmed by the Environmental Appeals Board requiring General Electric Company (GE) to clean up polychlorinated biphenyls from certain portions of the Housatonic River, holding that the EPA's challenged actions were not arbitrary or capricious.On appeal, Petitioners brought three substantive challenges and also brought procedural challenges to the permit's issuance. The First Circuit denied the petition after noting that should GE's cleanup of the river not achieve the goals set out in the permit, the permit requires further measures, holding that Petitioners were not entitled to relief on their procedural and substantive legal challenges. View "Housatonic River Initiative v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In this climate-change case, the First Circuit once more affirmed the order of the federal district court allowing Rhode Island's motion to return to state court its state court complaint against oil and gas companies for damages caused by fossil fuels, holding that Rhode Island's complaint did not give rise to federal removal jurisdiction.Rhode Island originally brought this complaint in state court, alleging state-law causes of action for, inter alia, public nuisance. After the energy companies removed the case to federal district court Rhode Island moved for the case to be remanded to state court. The district court granted the motion and ordered the case remanded to state court. The First Circuit affirmed the remand order. On certiorari, the Supreme Court instructed that the First Circuit give further consideration in light of recent caselaw. The First Circuit received supplemental briefs and then affirmed once more the judge's remand order, holding that removal based on federal-question jurisdiction and on other jurisdictional and removal statutes was not proper. View "State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the grant of summary judgment against Blackstone Headwaters Coalition in this citizen suit brought against various defendants involved in the development of a construction site, holding that North and South Rivers Watershed Ass'n v. Town of Scituate, 949 F.2d 552 (1st Cir. 1991), construed the scope of 33 U.S.C. 1319(g)(6)(A)'s limitation on citizen suits too broadly.In Scituate, a First Circuit panel held that the limitation on citizen suits established by 33 U.S.C. 1319(g)(6)(A) precludes a citizen suit that seeks to obtain declaratory or prospective injunctive relief from a violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq. In the instant case, a panel of the Court relied on Scituate to affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment against Blackstone. The Court then reconsidered its decision in Scituate, vacated the panel opinion in this case, and reversed the grant of summary judgment in part, holding that, contrary to Scituate, the limitation set forth in section 1319(g)(6)(A) bars only a citizen suit that seeks to apply a civil penalty for an ongoing violation of the CWA and does not bar a citizen suit for declaratory and prospective injunction relief to redress an ongoing violation of the CWA. View "Blackstone Headwaters Coalition v. Gallo Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court entering three separate judgment opinions and orders against Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) in this action brought by the United States seeking to recover response costs associated with the cleanup of the Maunabo Area Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, holding that the district court did not err.The United States brought this action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq., against PRIDCO, as a potentially responsible party. PRIDCO owned property on the Site that contained elevated levels of hazardous substances in the groundwater that were found downgradient in a public drinking water well. In its orders against PRIDCO, the district court found, inter alia, that the United States had established its prima facie case against PRIDCO for liability under CERCLA and that PRIDCO was liable for $5.5 million in past response costs and would be liable for additional response costs reasonably incurred by the United States. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the entry of summary judgment and award of response costs was not error. View "United States v. Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co." on Justia Law

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In this dispute between the Maine lobster industry and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Agency) over a rule barring frequently employed methods of lobstering the First Circuit granted the Agency's motion for a stay pending appeal of the district court's issuance a permanent injunction, holding that the Agency was entitled to a stay.In 2021, the Agency issued a rule barring, from October to January each year, the most frequently employed methods of lobstering in an approximately 1,000-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to reduce the risk that a right whale would become entangled in the ropes connecting lobster traps to buoys. Plaintiffs brought this action seeking to postpone enforcement of the new rule until the district court could finally decide whether the new rule was lawful. The district court granted Plaintiffs' preliminary request. The Agency appealed and asked the First Circuit to issue a stay of the district court order. The First Circuit granted the government's motion, holding the district court misapprended the record and erred in rejecting the Agency's arguments. View "District 4 Lodge of the International Ass'n v. Raimondo" on Justia Law

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In this complaint alleging violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCA), 42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq., the First Circuit vacated the order of the district court granting a motion to stay the proceedings under the so-called doctrine of primary jurisdiction, holding that the district court improperly stayed the case.Conservation Law Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, brought this suit against ExxonMobil Corporation, ExxonMobil Oil Corporation, and ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (collectively, ExxonMobil), alleging unlawful violations at ExxonMobil's petroleum storage and distribution terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. After the district court denied ExxonMobil's motion to dismiss, ExxonMobil moved to stay the case under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a decision on ExxonMobil's pending permit renewal application for the Everett terminal. The First Circuit vacated the stay order, holding that the district court erred in granting a stay under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction until EPA issues a new permit for ExxonMobil's Everett terminal. View "Conservation Law Foundation v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing this action against the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) under the citizen enforcement provision of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365(a), holding that Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss.In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that PRASA was violated the CWA by discharging raw sewage that flowed into a creek near her home in San Juan. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, finding that a citizen suit was barred because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was prosecuting a case it previously filed against PRASA addressing the same violations. The First Circuit vacated the order, holding (1) the district court failed to follow the correct standard for evaluating a motion to dismiss; and (2) Plaintiff's complaint stated a plausible claim that the EPA was not diligently persecuting certain violations. View "Cebollero-Bertran v. Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority" on Justia Law