Martinez v. COGCC: Colorado Supreme Court Rejects Adverse Impacts Pre-Condition

On January 14, 2019, the Colorado Supreme Court reached a decision in COGCC v. Martinez, ending more than five years of litigation between seven youth activists from Boulder-based Earth Guardians and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”). The Court held that the COGCC appropriately exercised its agency discretion when it declined to undertake a rulemaking that would have conditioned approval of applications for oil and gas drilling permits on a conditional finding of no adverse impacts to health, safety, or the environment.

The facts of the highly publicized case are well known. In 2013, Earth Guardians petitioned the COGCC to promulgate a rule requiring that COGCC withhold issuance of any new drilling permits “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent, third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health, and does not contribute to climate change.” COGCC declined to undertake the proposed rule-making, finding, inter alia, that the proposed rule was beyond COGCC’s limited statutory scope. The petitioners appealed to district court, which affirmed COGCC’s denial of the petition.

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Supreme Court Resolves Wind River Reservation Boundary Case

The U.S. Supreme Court ended a decade-long dispute on Monday, June 25, 2018, regarding the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation by denying certiorari in the combined case of Northern Arapaho Tribe, et al. v. Wyoming, et al. and Eastern Shoshone Tribe, et al. v. Wyoming, et al. The case answers two questions: (i) were the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation (the “Reservation”) diminished in 1905 by an agreement between the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone (the “Tribes”), and (ii) do the Tribes have sovereignty over the City of Riverton, Wyoming?1

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger established the Reservation, originally for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.2 The Northern Arapaho Tribe joined the Reservation in 1878. The Reservation’s boundaries changed frequently throughout the first decades of its existence. In 1874, the southern boundary was changed when the Eastern Shoshone Tribe sold all of its land south of the forty-third parallel in the “Lander Purchase.”3 The Reservation’s boundaries changed again in 1897 with the “Thermopolis Purchase,” affecting the northern boundary. In 1904, the Tribes and the federal government entered into an agreement to open up largely unclaimed land north of the Wind River for sale to non-Indians under the Homestead Act.4 This agreement was enacted by Congress in 1905, but an unanswered question simmered under the surface for over one hundred years – did the 1905 agreement reduce the size of the Reservation?

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The Supreme Court’s Pen Strikes Down Quill-Now What???

On June 21, 2018, in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court struck down over fifty years of precedent when it ruled that retailers are no longer required to have a physical presence in a state to be subject to the state’s tax jurisdiction for sales tax purposes. Importantly, the question before the Court was never whether South Dakota has the authority to tax the sales of goods and services delivered to consumers within its borders, as there is no doubt that such transactions are subject to South Dakota sales and use tax. Rather, the question was: who bears the tax compliance responsibility – the retailer or the consumer?

Sales and use taxes can often be thought of as two sides to the same coin. If a transaction is subject to sales tax, generally, the retailer must collect the tax from the consumer then report the sale and remit the tax to the appropriate taxing authorities. If a retailer is not subject to the tax jurisdiction of the state (or local authority) to which the tax is owed, the consumer is required to remit the tax (as a use tax) and report their purchase to the appropriate taxing authority. The question before the Court in Wayfair was: when may a state exercise tax jurisdiction over a retailer and require such retailer to collect, remit and report sales tax to the state?1

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A “Momentous” Supreme Court Term

The United States Supreme Court was back in action on Monday, October 2, 2017, and is now moving into what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says is going to be a “momentous” upcoming term. This will be the first full term for Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who replaced Justice Scalia, providing an extended look at his jurisprudence. The upcoming term also promises to showcase cases touching several hot button issues. Here is a quick overview of some of the notable cases coming before the Supreme Court.1

Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, which is being argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, could have important impacts in how elections are conducted. In this case, the Supreme Court is being asked to rule that extreme political gerrymandering violates the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court has never struck down a voting map on the ground that politics overly impacted how it was drawn, but Justice Kennedy has expressed uneasiness about this issue in the past. The decision in this case has the potential to not only reshape voting maps, but in so doing, shift the political landscape.

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The Uncertain Future of the Clean Power Plan under the Trump Administration

Since the Obama Administration announced its implementation in August of 2015, the Clean Power Plan (“CPP”) has managed to survive despite the many challenges brought against it. The Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”) rule was the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s climate change plan and seeks to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 32% from baseline 2005 levels by 2030 by setting reduction goals for each state. However, the CPP has encountered many legal roadblocks, and, with the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, its future appears to be in doubt.

On February 9, 2016, the United States Supreme Court ordered the Obama Administration to stay any efforts to implement the CPP until the completion of all legal challenges to the same in a 5-4 ruling. While the Court stay of the CPP is not final, it placed the Obama Administration’s environmental agenda in peril. However, the death of Justice Scalia in February appeared to put the CPP in a much more stable position. The sitting panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will decide the challenge, is composed of a majority of judges appointed by Democratic Presidents that would likely uphold the regulations. A majority of the Supreme Court would then be needed to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision. Prior to the election, that seemed unlikely, as the Court was deadlocked at 4-4. Oral arguments in case against the CPP were heard in the D.C. District Court on September 27, 2016, but no final ruling has been issued.

With the recent election of Mr. Trump to the presidency, however, the CPP will likely be rendered completely ineffective. Mr. Trump has stated that he believes that climate change is a hoax, and, in a May 2016 speech to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, he said that he would “rescind” the CPP in his first 100 days in office. Further, he has appointed Myron Ebell, the Director of Global Warming and International Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, as the head of his EPA transition efforts. Mr. Ebell is a well-known skeptic of climate change and is a vocal opponent of the CPP.

In order to limit or block the CPP, the Trump Administration has several options:

• As a far-reaching option, the Trump Administration, working with the Republican-controlled Congress, could author and pass a bill amending the Clean Air Act that would reduce or eliminate the power of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions. This would effectively kill the CPP. Such a bill would be subject to a Democratic filibuster in the Senate; however, Senate Republicans have the constitutional option of removing or substantially limiting the filibuster. In the alternative, the Republican Congress may attempt to attach a rule reducing the regulation of carbon emissions to a more popular bill as a compromise with the Democrats to avoid a battle over the filibuster.

• If the D.C. District Court does not issue its decision before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the Trump Administration’s newly-appointed Attorney General could move for a “voluntary remand” as discussed in SKF USA, Inc. v. United States, 254 F.3d 1022 (Fed Cir. 2001), whereby the agency, in this case the EPA, can ask that the court remand the action to the agency to conduct additional proceedings in the underlying case. The Trump Administration then could modify the CPP at the agency level to weaken or remove its more stringent regulatory requirements.

• If the D.C. District Court does uphold the CPP prior to January 20, 2017, the Trump Administration could require the EPA to re-write the CPP. The EPA would then need to follow the full necessary rulemaking procedures, including notice, drafts of the rule, and public comment on the same, which would typically take at least 12 to 15 months.

• The Trump Administration, through the EPA, could also decline to strictly enforce the CPP regulations and instead give states leeway to create very weak implementation plans.

If the Trump Administration is successful in weakening or overturning the CPP, various states, such as Colorado and California, will likely move ahead with their state-specific plans, while other states, such as Texas and West Virginia, may abandon their plans entirely. Moreover, economic factors such as the low price of natural gas and the continuing growth and efficiency of solar and wind energy will likely continue the decline in the use of coal-fed power plants. Regardless, the elimination of the CPP will slow the de-carbonization of the energy sector, and the Trump Administration’s actions on the CPP will likely be indicative of the coming political battles over energy production during the next four years.

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928 Hits