Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule for trailers pulled by tractors based on a statute enabling the EPA to regulate “motor vehicles.” In that same rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued fuel efficiency standards for trailers based on a statute enabling NHTSA to regulate “commercial medium-duty or heavy-duty on-highway vehicles.” The “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.” 81 Fed. Reg. 73,478, requires trailer manufacturers to adopt some combination of fuel-saving technologies, such as side skirts and automatic tire pressure systems. Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association sought review.The D.C. Circuit vacated all portions of the rule that pertain to trailers. Trailers have no motor and art not “motor vehicles.” Nor are they “vehicles” when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy since motorless vehicles use no fuel. View "Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In the 1930s and 1940s GE designed and manufactured self-propelled, electric passenger railcars that included liquid-cooled transformers. The transformers, which generated a great deal of heat, used a coolant called Pyranol that contains toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). GE sold some railcars to government entities whose trains operated on Penn Central lines. Pyranol from the transformers escaped and contaminated four Penn Central rail yards. APU, Penn Central’s successor, had to pay for the costly environmental cleanup and sued GE under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which makes four classes of “[c]overed persons” strictly liable for environmental contamination, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a). APU argued that GE “arranged for disposal” of hazardous PCB because it designed and manufactured transformers with pressure-release valves whose “natural function” was to discharge Pyranol when conditions required, it knew that “[t]he frequency of minor spills [was] large,” it took affirmative steps to direct spills onto the roadbed; and it implemented a fail-and-fix policy for defective transformers rather than recall them.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. GE is neither an arranger nor an operator under CERCLA. APU assigned away its contractual right to indemnification; any claims based on reassigned indemnity rights are time-barred. View "American Premier Underwriters, Inc. v. General Electric Co." on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway sought a declaration that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCTA) preempts Clark County, Washington’s permitting process. Clark County asserted that BNSF needed to obtain a permit for a project to upgrade an existing track and construct a second track in the Columbia River Gorge.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of BNSF. Under the ICCTA, the Surface Transportation Board has exclusive jurisdiction over rail carriers and track construction. If an apparent conflict exists between the ICCTA and a federal statute, then the courts must strive to harmonize the two laws, giving effect to both if possible. The court rejected an argument that the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act is such a federal statute. The Gorge Act does not establish national environmental standards but provides a framework for a commission of state-appointed officials to adopt a management plan and implement it through county land use ordinances. The Columbia River Gorge Commission retains final say over the approval and enforcement of the management plan and local county ordinances; enforcement actions may be brought in state court. The Gorge Act is not comparable to federal environmental laws and nothing in the Gorge Act indicates that the local ordinances otherwise have the force and effect of federal law. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Friends of the Columbia River Gorge" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Canadian National Railway (CN) sought approval from the Surface Transportation Board of its acquisition of the EJ & E rail line near Chicago. The Board considered the impact of the acquisition on 112 railroad crossings throughout the area, including the intersection at U.S. Highway 14 in Barrington. Crossings projected to be “substantially affected” were eligible for mitigation measures imposed by the Board as a condition to its approval, up to and including grade separation between the roadway and rail line. The Board approved CN’s acquisition, finding that U.S. 14 would neither be substantially affected nor warrant a grade separation. Barrington unsuccessfully petitioned the Board to reopen its decision three times. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. Barrington did not present new evidence or substantially changed circumstances that mandate a different result, 49 U.S.C. 1322(c). The Board conducted an environmental review (National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321–4370m‐12) and concluded that U.S. 14 did not exceed any of the three congestion thresholds for substantially affected crossings because “the major source of congestion” at U.S. 14 is “excess vehicle demand at existing major thoroughfare intersections” and “existing traffic signals in proximity to one another,” not CN’s acquisition of the EJ & E line. View "Village of Barrington v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law

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Study of the I-69 extension between Evansville and Indianapolis began in 1944. The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Act designated a new route from Indianapolis to Memphis,, via Evansville as a “high priority corridor” for development. As the project progressed, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) divided the project into two “tiers” for environmental analysis. After the plans were finalized, construction work on the six sections of Tier 2 began; 90 percent of the work on the extension is complete. The FHWA and Indiana Department of Transportation issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Tier 2, Section 4, in 2010. A Final Environmental Impact Statement and a Record of Decision issued in 2011. The agencies selected the final route and construction plan for Section 4 after reviewing 48 options and produced a record reflecting consideration of impact on historic sites, geological formations, and air-quality, among other factors. Pursuant to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in consultation and issued a Biological Opinion regarding the possible impact of tree-clearing on the endangered Indiana bat. Opponents filed suit. After a lengthy period of inactivity by Plaintiffs, including several missed case management deadlines, the district court granted summary judgment upholding the approvals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. Foxx" on Justia Law

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After the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, that Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7521(a))requires regulation of greenhouse gases emitted from vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued coordinated rules governing the greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy of cars and trucks. In 2012 the D.C. Circuit upheld EPA’s car emission standards. Opponents, including purchasers of new vehicles and POP, a business that makes after-market modifications to diesel engines enabling them to run on vegetable oil, then challenged the car rules on procedural grounds; challenged EPA’s truck standards on procedural grounds; and challenged both agencies’ regulations concerning trucks as arbitrary and capricious. The D.C. Circuit declined to reach the merits. The purchasers of new vehicles, arguing that EPA neglected to comply with a nondiscretionary statutory duty to provide its emission standards to the Science Advisory Board prior to issuing them, lacked standing, having failed to identify a discrete injury that a favorable decision by the court would remedy. POP’s interest in promoting alternative fuel does not fall within the zone of interests protected by 42 U.S.C. 7521, the provision of the Clean Air Act governing emissions standards for motor vehicles. View "Delta Constr. Co. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency" on Justia Law

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North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), a public agency established by Government Code section 93000, entered into a contract with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWPRC), allowing NWPRC to conduct freight rail service on tracks controlled by NCRA. Two environmental groups filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Pub. Resources Code, 21050, 21168.5, to challenge NCRA’s certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) and approval of NWPRC’s freight operations. The trial court denied the petitions, concluding CEQA review was preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA; 49 U.S.C. 10101) and rejecting a claim that NCRA and NWPRC were estopped from arguing otherwise. The appeals court affirmed, rejecting an argument that the ICCTA preempts only the “regulation” of rail transportation, whereas NCRA agreed to conduct a CEQA review of the rail operations and related repair/maintenance activities as part of a contract allowing it to receive state funds. NCRA and NWPRC are not estopped from claiming no EIR was required, due to positions taken in previous proceedings and the EIR was not insufficient for improperly “segmenting” the project, given that additional rail operations were contemplated on other sections of the line. View "Friends of the Eel River v. N. Coast RR. Auth." on Justia Law

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This dispute concerns the Bonner Bridge, which provides highway access between mainland North Carolina and the Outer Bank's Hatteras Island. Plaintiffs filed suit claiming that defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4370f, and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Defendants settled on a plan that essentially mirrors what currently exists: replacing the Bonner Bridge and maintaining NC 12 on Hatteras Island. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' NEPA challenge where defendants have not engaged in unlawful segmentation with respect to the five studied parallel bridge alternatives. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' Section 4(f) challenge because a Section 4(f) analysis is irrelevant if the joint planning exception applies. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. NC Dept. of Transp." on Justia Law

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The Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation decided to complete an Indiana segment of I-69, which will eventually run from Canada to Mexico. Environmentalists opposed the route and sued under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, which authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters of the United States. A permit will be denied if there is “a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem,” 40 C.F.R. 230.10(a), or if the discharge “would be contrary to the public interest.” 33 C.F.R. 320.4(a)(1). The permit at issue allows six streams to be filled where the highway crosses them and permits destruction of wetlands. The environmentalists proposed, in the alternative, simply upgrading to federal interstate highway standards, and existing route. In an environmental impact statement, the Corps concluded that no less environmentally damaging alternative was practicable, that the project was not contrary to the public interest, that damage to wetlands would be modest and would be offset by creation of new wetlands. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the environmental analysis. View "Hoosier Envtl. Council, v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs" on Justia Law