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  Environmental - Legal News


A federal court on Tuesday removed an obstacle to the U.S. government’s plan to release more endangered wolves in New Mexico over the state’s objections, but it was not clear whether additional animals would be reintroduced under the Trump administration.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a temporary order issued by a lower court that stopped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from releasing more Mexican gray wolves after New Mexico refused to agree to the plan.

The state Game and Fish Department is disappointed, but it will keep pursuing the case in federal court in New Mexico, where it was originally filed, spokesman Lance Cherry said. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jeff Humphrey said the agency was still reviewing the decision.

Despite the ruling, it wasn’t immediately known whether wolf releases would resume. President Donald Trump has slowed or reversed other environmental initiatives since taking office in January, when the appeals court was considering the wolf case.

And many Republicans in control of Congress have long objected to parts of the Endangered Species Act, which is the legal authority for re-establishing the Mexican gray wolf and other animals.

Protected status under the act usually brings restrictions on ranching, mining and other activities.

Only about 110 Mexican gray wolves live in the wild. They nearly disappeared in the 1970s, and the federal government added them to the endangered species list in 1976. The Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing them to parts of their original range in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998.

New Mexico has complaints about the way the program is managed, and in 2015 it refused to issue a permit to Fish and Wildlife to release more of the predators.

The agency decided to release them anyway, citing an urgent need to expand the wild population to prevent inbreeding. New Mexico officials went to court, and a federal judge temporarily blocked further releases last year while the dispute is resolved.




A federal appeals court Thursday revived a sweeping lawsuit accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of endangering scores of protected species by approving toxic pesticides without required consultation with wildlife officials.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed part of a lower court ruling in the 2011 suit against the EPA by two environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America. The groups say the EPA has approved hundreds of pesticides that are known to be harmful to endangered and threatened species such as the California condor without legally required consultations with wildlife officials that could limit the pesticides' impacts.

The EPA says on its website that it evaluates risks to endangered and threatened species as part of the pesticide registration process. EPA attorneys have argued in court documents that the environmental groups failed to show a causal link between agency actions and harm to endangered species.

An email to a spokesman for the agency was not immediately returned. "We're hopeful that this ruling will lead the EPA to finally include reasonable safeguards that keep harmful chemicals out of the habitats of the nation's most vulnerable wildlife," Stephanie Parent, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero dismissed much of the environmental groups' lawsuit in a 2014 ruling. The 9th Circuit in a 2-1 ruling agreed with most of the judge's decision, but reversed him on claims stemming from the requirement that the EPA re-register pesticides that were previously approved.

The environmental groups say the Endangered Species Act requires the EPA to consult with wildlife officials when they re-register a pesticide.


State high court to hear wind power appeal

  Environmental  -   POSTED: 2016/12/03 20:20

A decision on a proposed high-voltage power transmission line that would run through several Illinois counties is now heading to the state Supreme Court after an energy company decided to appeal a ruling against construction.

The high court agreed last week to review an appellate court's decision on the Rock Island Clean Line, a 500-mile electric project transmitting wind energy from Iowa turbines. The appellate court reversed a 2014 decision from the state Commerce Commission, which approved construction of the line.

Evidence presented by Rock Island in the case suggests the project would reduce electricity costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. The construction of the project would also create construction jobs.

Rock Island also would pay each county through which the transmission line passes $7,000 per year for each mile for 20 years.

The company has faced four years of legal opposition by the Illinois Landowners Alliance, the Illinois Farm Bureau and ComEd. The groups argue that the project doesn't meet Illinois Public Utilities Act requirements.



Solar advocates are asking Florida's high court to invalidate Amendment 1, a ballot measure they argue is misleading, and throw out votes cast for it.

The legal challenge was filed Wednesday with the Florida Supreme Court.

It comes after a leading proponent of Amendment 1 was recorded saying that the measure was written to appear pro-solar, even though it could end up restricting solar growth in Florida by raising costs.

Solar advocates are asking the court to revisit a previous ruling which found that Amendment 1's language was not misleading.

Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for a utility-funded group that supports the amendment, called the legal challenge "political grandstanding" and said the amendment will protect consumers.

Amendment 1 seeks to change the state constitution to say consumers shouldn't "subsidize" solar growth.


The federal appeals court in Washington began hearing oral arguments Tuesday in the legal fight over President Barack Obama's plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Plan, which aims to slow climate change by reducing power-plant emissions by one-third, has been challenged by more than two dozen mostly Republican-led states, including Texas, and allied business and industry groups tied to fossil fuels. The states deride the carbon-cutting plan unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency as an "unlawful power grab" that will kill coal-mining jobs and drive up electricity costs.

The Supreme Court has delayed implementation until the legal challenges are resolved.

Implementation of the rules is considered essential to the United States meeting emissions-reduction targets in a global climate agreement signed in Paris last year. The Obama administration and environmental groups also say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs.

Regardless of which side prevails at the appeals level, the issue is considered likely to end up being decided by the Supreme Court.



A Japanese court gave the go-ahead for the restart of two nuclear reactors Thursday after its operator said in an appeal they were safe.

The Fukui District Court in western Japan lifted an April injunction that was filed by a group of residents who said that a massive earthquake exceeding the facility's quake resistance could cause a disaster similar to the Fukushima crisis following the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

The order paves the way for a resumption of the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors, operated by the Kansai Electric Power Co.

The operator had already obtained approval of the safety regulators, and town and prefectural leaders expressed their support for a restart this month, just in time for the ruling. Two of Japan's 43 reactors are currently back online.

Thursday's decision minimizes the delay for the Takahama reactors, which had been set for restart late this year.

The utility plans to go ahead with loading fuel rods into the No. 3 reactor within days, and go through final safety checks before putting the reactor back online late January.

Takahama reactors could be a third and fourth to restart, while prospects for a fifth one, the Ikata reactor in Shikoku, southwestern Japan, are uncertain due to strong local opposition over evacuation plans in case of an emergency.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pro-business government wants to restart as many reactors as possible. The government says nuclear energy should remain key for resource-poor Japan. Abe is also pushing to export Japan's nuclear technology and recently signed a nuclear agreement with India.



Environmental advocates will try to persuade the Utah Supreme Court Wednesday that the state's approval of an oil refinery expansion would add to air quality woes in northern Utah, parts of which suffer from some of the nation's worst air in winter.

The legal battle marks the latest illustration of the intense scrutiny air quality issues receive in the greater Salt Lake region.

The air problems in Utah's urban corridor during the winter result from weather and geography with cold, stagnant air often settling in the bowl-shaped mountain basins, trapping tailpipe and other emissions that have no way of escaping.

Doctors warn that breathing the polluted air can cause lung problems and other health concerns. State officials ban wood burning on many days, and they constantly plead with residents to carpool and take other measures to cut down on pollution.

At issue in this case is the expanded scope of work at the Tesoro oil refinery just north of Salt Lake City.

State officials gave approval in 2012 for Tesoro to increase operations at the facility, but a coalition of environmental groups sued.

State regulators stand behind the decision, arguing in court documents that Tesoro met all state and federal requirements. But the coalition — which includes Western Resource Advocates, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Sierra Club in Utah — argue that the state should require stricter emissions controls.

The particles emitted from refineries and other pollution penetrate people's bodies, making it difficult to for the lungs to work and causing a host of health problems, said Joro Walker, senior attorney for Western Resource Advocates in Utah.

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