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  Environmental - Legal News


Young activists who are suing the U.S. government in a high-profile climate change lawsuit say the case poses important constitutional questions that should be fully evaluated at trial next week.

The 21 young people issued a response Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily put the trial on hold. Lawyers for the young people, ages 11 to 22, argue that the move "will disrupt the integrity of the judiciary's role as a check on the political branches and will irreparably harm these children."

The trial had been set to start Oct. 29 in federal court in Eugene, Oregon. The lawsuit filed in 2015 argues that government officials have known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution from fossil fuels was causing climate change and that policies on oil and gas deprive the young people of life, liberty and property.

They also say the government has failed to protect natural resources as a "public trust" for future generations. The lawsuit wants a court to order the government to take action to quickly phase out carbon dioxide emissions to a certain level by 2100 and develop a national climate recovery plan.



A pipeline company was convicted of nine criminal charges Friday for causing the worst California coastal spill in 25 years, a disaster that blackened popular beaches for miles, killed wildlife and hurt tourism and fishing.

A Santa Barbara County jury found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline guilty of a felony count of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and eight misdemeanor charges, including killing marine mammals and protected sea birds.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Plains’ actions were not only reckless and irresponsible but also criminal.

“Today’s verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable,” he said.

Plains said in a statement that the jury didn’t find any knowing misconduct by the company and “accepts full responsibility for the impact of the accident.”

“We are committed to doing the right thing,” the company said.

The company said its operation of the pipeline met or exceeded legal and industry standards, and believes the jury erred in its verdict on one count where California law allowed a conviction under a standard of negligence.

“We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision,” Plains said.

The company is set to be sentenced on Dec. 13. Because it’s a company, and not a person, Plains only faces fines, though it’s unclear how steep the penalties could be.

Plains had faced a total of 15 charges for the rupture of a corroded pipeline that sent at least 123,000 gallons (465,000 liters) of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.


North Carolina judges are setting up a court battle to decide whether the world's largest pork producer will keep paying for environmental projects as it promised 18 years ago or if the millions should go to public schools instead.

A divided state Court of Appeals resurrected a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Smithfield Foods's 2000 agreement to pay up to $2 million a year for 25 years. The state attorney general has largely decided who got the money.

The court determined a trial should decide if the payments are actually penalties for bad behavior. The state constitution requires that schools get penalty payments.

Smithfield agreed in the same 2000 deal to phase out open-air hog waste pits within five years. The cesspools are still used on hundreds of farms raising Smithfield's hogs.



A federal appeals court says the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping the top-selling pesticide chlorpyrifos on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies' brains.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.

A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruits, apples and other crops.

In a split decision, the court said EPA violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful. The pesticide is sold by Dow Agro Sciences and others.


The Hawaii Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in an appeal that could determine whether an embattled multi-nation telescope project can be built on a mountain Native Hawaiians consider sacred or have to move to a backup site in Spain's Canary Islands that's less desirable to scientists hoping to use the instrument for groundbreaking discoveries.

Much of the arguments centered around whether it was a conflict of interest for a hearings officer who made a key recommendation in favor of the project to be a member of a Hawaii astronomy center.

The state allowed retired judge Riki May Amano to preside over contested-case hearings for the contentious project despite complaints from telescope opponents who decried her paid membership to the Imiloa Astronomy Center.

The Big Island center is connected to the University of Hawaii, which is the permit applicant.

Opponents appealed to the Supreme Court after Amano recommended granting the permit and the state land board approved it.

"She should have never presided over the case," Richard Wurdeman, an attorney representing telescope opponents, told the justices. He noted the center included exhibits about the project planned for the Big Island's Mauna Kea, Hawaii's tallest mountain.

Amano was just a casual member of the center, a "remote and tenuous relationship" that doesn't create an appearance of impropriety, state Solicitor General Clyde Wadsworth told the justices.

Associate Justice Richard Pollack asked why Amano later cancelled her membership in response to the concerns. Wadsworth said the cancellation was not a concession of bias.

This is the second appeal before the high court involving the Thirty Meter Telescope. Justices are already considering another appeal challenging the state land board's decision to allow the University of Hawaii to sublease mountaintop land to telescope builders.


The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a challenge to Virginia's decades-old ban on uranium mining.

The state has had a ban on uranium mining in place since 1982, soon after the discovery of a massive uranium deposit in the state's Pittsylvania County. It's the largest known deposit in the United States and one of the largest in the world.

The owners of the deposit put its value at $6 billion and said it would be enough uranium to power all of the United States' nuclear reactors continuously for two years.

A few years after the deposit was discovered, the price of uranium plummeted and interest in mining it waned for about two decades. But after the price of uranium rebounded, the deposit's owners attempted between 2008 and 2013 to convince Virginia lawmakers to reconsider the ban. After that effort failed, they sued Virginia in federal court in 2015. The hope was that a court would invalidate the ban and clear the path for mining the uranium. Lower courts agreed with the state, however, and dismissed the lawsuit.

In asking the high court to take the case, the companies underscored the importance of uranium to the United States. Nuclear reactors powered by uranium generate about 20 percent of the electricity consumed in the United States, the companies say. Uranium also powers the nation's fleet of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. But 94 percent of the uranium the U.S. needs is imported, they said.

Turning the Virginia deposit into usable uranium would involve three steps. First, the uranium ore would have to be mined from the ground. The uranium would then need to be processed at a mill, where pure uranium is separated from waste rock. The waste rock, called "tailings," which remain radioactive, would then have to be securely stored.

The owners of the Virginia deposit argue that the state can regulate the uranium mining, the first step in the process, but not if the state's purpose in doing so is protecting against radiation hazards that arise from the second two steps. They say that's what motivated the state's ban. They argue the Atomic Energy Act gives federal regulators the exclusive power to regulate the radiation hazards of milling of uranium and of handling and storing the leftover tailings.



The state has argued in court that a climate change lawsuit filed by 16 young Alaska residents should be thrown out because climate policies must be decided by the state Legislature and the executive branch, not the courts.

The state and plaintiffs argued their cases on Monday before an Anchorage judge in a hearing to decide if the lawsuit should advance, Alaska's Energy Desk reported .

The plaintiffs, ranging from children in elementary school to college students, say the state is violating their constitutional rights by failing to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Assistant Attorney General Seth Beausang asked the court to dismiss the case, citing the Alaska Supreme Court's dismissal of a similar climate change case in 2014 setting precedent.

"The court said that weighing all those interests was a policy decision entrusted to the political branches, and not to the courts," Beausang said.

The 2014 case and the current one were both filed with help from an Oregon-based nonprofit, Our Children's Trust, which has filed legal actions on behalf of young people across the country demanding action on climate change.

The plaintiffs said that in the years since the 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Alaska has implemented a de facto climate policy by continuing to encourage activities like oil and gas production.

"The state's climate and energy policy is causing catastrophic harm to Alaska's climate system and endangering plaintiff's lives and liberties and their very futures," Our Children's Trust attorney Andrew Welle said. "These claims are squarely within the authority of the court."

Attorneys for both sides said they expect a ruling within the next six months.


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