Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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Grist Creek owns property in Mendocino County on which it has aggregate and asphalt processing operations. The County Air Quality Management District approved a permit to construct a “Crumb Rubber Heating and Blending Unit” for the production of rubberized asphalt, on the property. The District Hearing Board’s four members who considered an appeal split evenly on their vote; the Board stated no further action would be taken, leaving the permit in place. Oponents filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate, claiming that Grist Creek should have conducted an environmental review and that the District and Hearing Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, Pub. Resources Code, 21000) and District regulations by failing to require one. The trial court dismissed the action against the Board with leave to amend, finding the tie vote was not a decision, so there was nothing to review. The court of appeals reversed. The Board’s tie vote, in this context, resulted in the denial of the administrative appeal, subject to judicial review. View "Grist Creek Aggregates, LLC v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the District filed this lawsuit against a number of defendants to address current and threatened groundwater contamination in the North Basin. In its operative first amended complaint (FAC), the District alleged each defendant owned or operated one or more industrial sites in northern Orange County where hazardous wastes (i.e., VOC's) had been released into the environment. The release of hazardous wastes had caused or threatened to cause contamination in groundwater within the District's geographic area. The District sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees, costs, an order finding defendants liable for the full cost of remediation, an order declaring the contamination a nuisance and compelling defendants to abate it, and any other proper relief. Defendants cross-complained against the District for, among other things, a declaration of no liability. The trial court found in favor of defendants, and against the District, on its claims under the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD) and the Carpenter-PresleyTanner Hazardous Substances Account Act (HSAA) and for declaratory relief. The court found that each defendant was "entitled to a judicial declaration that it has no liability to the District for damages, response costs, or other costs claimed by the District, or any future costs associated with the NBGPP." The court found that the District's claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass required the District to establish causation as to each defendant. Given the court's causation findings in its statement of decision, it found that the District could not prevail on its claims. The Court of Appeal reversed in part as to: (1) District's cause of action against Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation under the OCWD Act; and (2) the declaration finding no liability in favor of Northrop. The Court of Appeal remanded for the trial court to reexamine the relevant evidence, receive such additional evidence as the court deemed necessary and appropriate, make new findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the issues subject to reversal, and enter judgment accordingly. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Orange County Water Dist. v. Alcoa Global Fasteners" on Justia Law

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In 2004, the District filed this lawsuit against MAG and several other defendants to address current and threatened groundwater contamination in northern Orange County. In its operative first amended complaint (FAC), the District alleged that MAG owned and operated an industrial site at 1300 East Valencia Drive in Fullerton, California (the Valencia site). The District alleged that MAG and other owners and operators at the Valencia site released hazardous wastes there, including the volatile organic compound PCE (tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene). The release of hazardous waste had caused or threatened to cause contamination to groundwater within the District's geographic area. The District alleged injury in the form of investigation and remediation costs to address this contamination and threatened contamination, as well as the ongoing threat to public health, natural resources, and the environment posed by the hazardous waste releases. In appealing the grant of summary judgment in favor of MAG, the District argued: (1) the trial court erred during the bench trial by granting MAG's motion for judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8 on the District's HSAA claim; (2) the trial court erred under Code of Civil Procedure section 1048, subdivision (b) by scheduling a bench trial on the District's equitable claims before a jury trial on the District's legal claims, thereby depriving the District of its right to trial by jury; (3) the trial court erred by granting declaratory relief in favor of MAG in the absence of a request by MAG; and (4) the trial court erred by applying Evidence Code section 412 to discount the conclusions of the District's expert witness. Finding no reason to disturb the trial court’s judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Orange County Water Dist. v. MAG Aerospace Industries" on Justia Law

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This case concerned residual pollutant discharges from public fireworks displays over the waters of the United States within the jurisdiction of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region (the Regional Board), which included a large portion of San Diego County, portions of south Orange County, and the southwestern portion of Riverside County (San Diego Region). The Regional Board approved a general permit for public displays of fireworks over the region's surface waters. Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF) appealed the trial court's denial of its petition for writ of mandamus challenging the approval of the Fireworks Permit. CERF contended: (1) the trial court applied the wrong standard of review in denying its petition, (2) the Fireworks Permit violates federal law regarding water quality monitoring, and (3) the Fireworks Permit violated prohibitions in the State Water Resources Control Board's 2009 California Ocean Plan concerning discharges in areas of special biological significance (ASBS). After review, the Court of Appeal rejected CERF's arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Coastal Environ. Rights v. Cal. Reg. Wat. Quality Control Bd." on Justia Law

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When ARB's adoption of low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) regulations in 2009 violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Court of Appeal directed the issuance of a writ of mandate compelling ARB to take corrective action. At issue in this appeal was whether ARB's actions satisfied the writ and corrected one of its CEQA violations. The court concluded that the writ should not have been discharged and the CEQA violation continues uncorrected. Pursuant to the court's discretionary authority to fashion appellate relief, the court reversed the order discharging the writ and remanded for further proceedings under a modified writ. The modifications direct ARB to address NOx emissions from biodiesel in a manner that complies with CEQA, including the use of a proper baseline. View "Poet, LLC v. State Air Resources Bd." on Justia Law

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Since 1972, Mendocino County has approved aggregate and asphalt production on the site; it approved a 2002 permit after review under the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA). In 2009, the County proceeded under CEQA, prepared an environmental impact report, and updated its General Plan, changing the site’s designation from Rangeland to Industrial, then rezoned 61 parcels, including the site, to conform to updated use designations. Grist Creek acquired the site and wanted to resume aggregate and asphalt production; there had been little production due to market conditions and equipment had been removed. Due to environmental impacts, Grist initially pursued only an aggregate and concrete operation. The Planning Department undertook CEQA review; the County adopted a conditional negative declaration. Later, Grist Creek proposed asphalt production. The County Board of Supervisors declared that proposal was neither a new nor a changed, industrial use. The Planning Department issued a “Notice of Exemption” for “[r]esumption of . . . aggregate processing plant,” The air pollution control officer issued an Authority to Construct without further environmental review. The court dismissed a CEQA suit against the Air Quality Management District. The court of appeal reversed; CEQA claims are allowed against air quality management districts, but the suit does not challenge any land use designations or authorizations. The District (a separate governmental agency) only assessed the proposal’s impact on air quality and issued an “Authority to Construct.” Even under CEQA, this is an administrative proceeding; the only possible relief is invalidation of the Authority to Construct. View "Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County" on Justia Law

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Substantively, in three somewhat interconnected claims, Joe and Yvette Hardesty (collectively, Hardesty) attacked State Mining and Geology Board (Board) findings, contending the trial court misunderstood the legal force of his 19th century federal mining patents. He asserted he had a vested right to surface mine after the passage of SMARA without the need to prove he was surface mining on SMARA’s operative date of January 1, 1976. He argued the Board and trial court misapplied the law of nonconforming uses in finding Hardesty had no vested right, and separately misapplied the law in finding that his predecessors abandoned any right to mine. These contentions turned on legal disputes about the SMARA grandfather clause and the force of federal mining patents. Procedurally, Hardesty alleged the Board’s findings did not “bridge the gap” between the raw evidence and the administrative findings. Hardesty also challenged the fairness of the administrative process itself, alleging that purported ex parte communications by the Board’s executive director, Stephen Testa, tainted the proceedings. The Court of Appeal reviewed the facts, and found they undermined Hardesty’s claims: the fact that mines were worked on the property years ago does not necessarily mean any surface or other mining existed when SMARA took effect, such that any right to surface mine was grandfathered. However, the Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusions that, on this record, neither of these procedural claims proved persuasive. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment denying the mandamus petition. View "Hardesty v. State Mining & Geology Board" on Justia Law

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In 2006, the San Mateo Community College District adopted a facilities master plan, proposing new construction and facilities renovations at its three campuses. The Plan for College of San Mateo included demolishing certain buildings and renovating others. Buildings slated for renovation included the Building 20 complex, which includes a lab structure, greenhouse, and garden space. The District published an initial study and mitigated negative declaration (MND), stating that, with the implementation of mitigation measures, the Plan would not have a significant effect on the environment. The District failed to obtain funding. It re-evaluated the Plan. In 2011, it issued notice, indicating that it would demolish the complex and replace it with a parking lot and would renovate other buildings. The District concluded a subsequent or supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) was not required, addressed the change through an addendum to its 2006 study and MND, and approved demolition of the Building 20 complex. The trial court found that the demolition was inconsistent with the original plan, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, 21000). After remand for review under CEQA’s “subsequent review” provisions, the court of appeal affirmed, holding that use of an addendum violated these provisions because there was substantial evidence to support a fair argument that the project changes might have a significant effect on the environment. View "Friends of College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo Community College District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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Until 2000, Sonoma County grape growers could plant or replant a vineyard “as a matter of right” without governmental approval. A 2000 ordinance, governing “grading, drainage improvement, and vineyard and orchard site development within the unincorporated area of the county” requires growers, other than hobbyists, to obtain an erosion-control permit from the Agricultural Commissioner before establishing or replanting a vineyard. An applicant must submit plans demonstrating compliance with certain directives and must accept certain ongoing agricultural practices. The Commissioner issued the Ohlsons a permit to establish a vineyard on land they own that was being used for grazing, finding that issuing the permit was a ministerial act, exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code 21000 (CEQA). The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the ordinance may allow the Commissioner to exercise discretion when issuing erosion-control permits in some circumstances, the objectors did not show that the Commissioner improperly determined that issuing the Ohlsons’ permit was ministerial. Most of the ordinance’s provisions that potentially confer discretion did not apply to their project, and the objectors failed to show that the few that might apply conferred the ability to mitigate potential environmental impacts to any meaningful degree. View "Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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The State Air Resources Board (ARB) was charged with achieving the goal of regulating greenhouse gas pursuant to the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, Health & Saf. Code, 38500 et seq. At issue are the low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) the ARB promulgated. In 2009, the ARB violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Pub. Resources Code, 21000 et seq., when it adopted the original LCFS regulations. In 2013, the court identified the violations and directed the issuance of a writ of mandate compelling ARB to take corrective action. At issue in this appeal was whether ARB's disclosures about the project's effects on biodiesel consumption, and the related increases in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, satisfied paragraph 3 of the writ of mandate. The court concluded that ARB's view that the "project" included only the regulations adopted in 2015 was wrong and explains why it incorrectly chose 2014 NOx emissions as the baseline. The court explained that the proper baseline for a project normally is the conditions existing when the environmental review of the project is commenced -- 2009, in this case. Therefore, ARB's use of 2014 NOx emissions as the baseline was improper and generated flawed results when that baseline was plugged into the formula for calculating environmental change. The court concluded that ARB's flawed analysis of NOx emissions did not cure the CEQA violation identified in Poet I or comply with paragraph 3 of the writ. The court reversed the order discharging the writ and remanded for further proceedings under a modified writ. View "Poet, LLC v. State Air Resources Board" on Justia Law