Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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The Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision in Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality, 391 P.3d 148 (Utah 2016) (Utah Physicians I) and dismissed the petition for review in this case for reasons set forth in the court’s decision in that case. In both cases the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality approved a permit for a new project at an oil refinery, and the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality affirmed the issuance of the permit. In both cases, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and others (collectively, Petitioners) sought to challenge the Executive Director’s final action in a judicial proceeding. In Utah Physicians I, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on procedural grounds because Petitioners failed to identify specific parts of the Executive Director’s final order they believed were incorrect. Because Petitioners made the same error in this case, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for review. View "Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Friends of Great Salt Lake (Friends) challenged the decision of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Division) granting a mining lease covering a small portion of the Great Salt Lake. Friends made three simultaneous attempts to halt the lease in requests and petitions submitted to the Division or to the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Department). The Division and Department issued a single agency order denying all three. Friends appealed and sought leave to amend its complaint to raise additional constitutional and statutory arguments. The district court affirmed the rejection of Friends’ requests and petitions, denied in part Friends’ attempt to amend its complaint, and subsequently dismissed Friends’ remaining arguments on summary judgment. Friends appealed and, alternatively, sought extraordinary relief. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed in large part and denied Friends’ request for extraordinary relief; and (2) reversed to a limited extent, holding that the Division was required to engage in “site-specific planning” under the applicable provisions of the Utah Administrative Code. Remanded to allow the Department to decide on the appropriate remedy for the failure to perform such planning. View "Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (UDAQ) approval of certain changes at Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company’s Salt Lake City Refinery. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club (collectively, Petitioner) filed a request for agency action challenging the permit allowing the changes at the refinery, arguing that the Director of UDAQ conducted a legally insufficient analysis by approving Tesoro’s changes. Upon completion of permit review adjudicative proceedings, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that Petitioners’ challenge be dismissed. The Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality adopted the ALJ’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and proposed disposition and dismissed each of Petitioners’ arguments. The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioners’ appeal, holding that because Petitioners did not address alleged deficiencies in the Executive Director’s final order in their opening brief, they failed to meet their burden of persuasion on appeal. View "Utah Physicians for a Health Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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In 1910, the district court issued the Little Cottonwood Morse Decree establishing water rights for the Little Cottonwood Creek. In 2013, parties bound by the contractual provisions contained in the Morse Decree filed a postjudgment motion in the case that resulted in the decree asking the district court to modify the decree. The district court denied the motion, concluding that it lacked the authority to reopen the century-old case to modify the final judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a postjudgment motion was an inappropriate procedural vehicle to modify the Morse Decree. View "Little Cottonwood Tanner Ditch Co. v. Sandy City" on Justia Law

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US Oil Sands, Inc. applied for a discharge permit from the Utah Board of Water Quality (BWQ) for its tar sands bitumen-extraction project. In 2008, the BWQ issued the discharge permit. The 2008 decision was reaffirmed by the Executive Secretary in 2011. Living Rivers, an environmental advocacy organization, intervened and sought administrative review of the Secretary’s decision. The BWQ affirmed the issuance of the 2008 permit on its merits. Living Rivers petitioned for review of the BWQ’s decision. The Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, holding that because was no timely challenge to the 2008 decision, the original permit was final and not subject to further challenge on the merits. View "Living Rivers v. Utah Div. of Water Quality" on Justia Law

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Appellants in this case were several nonprofit Utah corporations that distributed water to their shareholders for irrigation of agricultural land (collectively, Irrigation Companies). The Irrigation Companies filed a complaint alleging that the water right of Frank Vincent Family Ranch, LC (Vincent) had been partially forfeited and partially abandoned. The district court granted summary judgment to Vincent, holding that Utah law did not provide for partial forfeiture or abandonment before 2002 and that Vincent was protected from partial forfeiture and abandonment after 2002 by an exception located in Utah Code 73-1-4(3)(f)(i). The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the pre-2002 Forfeiture Statute unambiguously permitted partial forfeiture; (2) the exception located in section 73-1-4(3)(f)(i) is not a rule that forfeiture can never occur when a water right is not fully satisfied; and (3) abandonment is a common-law cause of action that requires a showing of intent to relinquish. Remanded. View "Delta Canal Co. v. Frank Vincent Family Ranch, LC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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Appellants, several irrigation companies, and Appellee, a family ranch, were water-rights holders in the Sevier River system. Appellants filed a complaint in district court alleging that Appellee's water right had been partially forfeited and partially abandoned. The district court granted summary judgment for Appellee, finding (1) Utah law did not provide for partial forfeiture or partial abandonment prior to 2002, and (2) Appellee was protected from partial forfeiture and abandonment after 2002 by a statutory exception. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the grant of summary judgment as to the post-2002 partial-forfeiture claim, holding that partial forfeiture has always been available in Utah; and (2) reversed the grant of summary judgment on the abandonment claim, holding that the district court erred in treating the abandonment claim as a claim under the forfeiture statute, as abandonment of a water right is a common-law claim, not a statutory claim. Remanded. View "Delta Canal Co. v. Frank Vincent Family Ranch, LC " on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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The Point of the Mountain Aqueduct is a sixty-inch diameter pipeline that runs along the Draper Canal and transports culinary water to Salt Lake City and other cities in the Salt Lake Valley. Plaintiffs in this case were homeowners who asserted claims challenging Metropolitan Water District's construction of the aqueduct as exceeding the scope of its real property rights along the canal route. The district court granted summary judgment for the Water District. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision in most respects, but reversed the district court's conclusion that (1) Reaches 16-17 were not limited by restrictive covenants; and (2) enclosing the Draper Canal within a buried pipeline was reasonable as a matter of law and so did not exceed the scope of the Water District's property rights in Reach 19. The Court then (1) held that warranty deeds imposed restrictive covenants that run with the land, limiting Reaches 16-17 to canal purposes only; and (2) remanded for a factual determination of whether the canal enclosure was reasonable and did not materially alter the burden to Appellants' land with respect to Reaches 16, 17, and 19. View "Stern v. Metro. Water Dist." on Justia Law

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Daniel Berman asked the district court for a declaratory judgment quantifying his Utah water rights and an injunction ordering a Wyoming water official to deliver this water to his property in Wyoming. The district court issued the declaratory judgment but expressly reserved ruling on any enforcement issues. Later, Berman filed a motion to enforce, asking the court to order Wyoming water officials, including those who were not parties in the declaratory action, to deliver the amount of water quantified in the declaratory judgment. The court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Berman's motion to enforce was procedurally barred because (1) a motion to enforce cannot be used to address matters beyond the scope of the underlying judgment it seeks to enforce, and (2) in this case, the declaratory judgment did not include any directive to Wyoming water officials. View "Berman v. Yarbrough" on Justia Law

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Marilyn Hamblin, the owner of a water right as an alleged tenant in common, filed a permanent change application with the state engineer, seeking to change her water right's place of use and point of diversion. The engineer rejected Hamblin's application because Hamblin had established no beneficial use under the water right since at least 1980. The district court granted the engineer's motion for summary judgment, basing its decision primarily on the determination that Hamblin's water right had been forfeited by operation of law through nonuse. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the state engineer lacked the authority to adjudicate water rights, and therefore, could not consider non-adjudicated forfeiture when reviewing a change application; and (2) instead, the engineer was limited to considering factors presented in Utah Code Ann. 73-3-8(1) when deciding whether to approve or deny a change application, but could stay change application proceedings while pursuing an adjudication of forfeiture. View "Jensen v. Jones" on Justia Law