Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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The State Corporation Commission issued to Virginia Electric and Power Company certificates of public convenience and necessity authorizing the construction of electric transmission facilities. BASF Corporation appealed, challenging the approval of the transmission line’s route across an environmental remediation site on its property along the James River. James City County, Save the James Alliance Trust, and James River Association (collectively, JCC) also appealed, challenging the approval of an overhead transmission line that will cross the James River and a switching station that will be located in James City County. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the Commission did not err in its construction or application of Va. Code 56-46.1’s requirements that the power company reasonably minimize adverse environmental impacts on the area concerned, and the Commission’s findings were not contrary to the evidence or without evidentiary support; and (2) the Commission erred in concluding that the switching station was a “transmission line” under Va. Code 56-46.1(F) and therefore not subject to local zoning ordinances. Remanded as to the JCC appellants. View "BASF Corp. v. State Corp. Comm’n" on Justia Law

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She-Sha Cafe and Hookah Lounge is a hookah bar that serves food in areas where smoking occurs. In 2010, the Montgomery County Health Department charged She-Sha with two violations of the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act (VICAA), which prohibits smoking in restaurants. The Virginia Department of Health upheld the violations, concluding that She-Sha was correctly labeled as a restaurant and that none of the exceptions in the VICAA applied. The State Health Commissioner and the circuit court upheld the violations. A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that She-Sha was not exempt from regulation as a “retail tobacco store” because it was not operating exclusively as such. The full Court of Appeals overruled the panel, concluding that She-Sha, as a restaurant, was exempt from VICAA because it was also a retail tobacco store. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that She-Sha was not exempt from regulation under the VICAA because it was not exclusively a retail tobacco store. View "Va. Dep't of Health v. Kepa, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a severance deed conveying ownership of, and the right to remove, coal and timber underlying and appurtenant to a certain tract of land. The parties to this appeal were the successors-in-interest to the grantors named in the severance deed (the Surface Owners) and the successor-in-interest to the grantees of the coal rights named in the deed (the Coal Owner). The Surface Owners and the Coal Owner asserted conflicting claims to royalties generated by the extraction of coal bed methane gas (CBM) from the coal seams underlying the property. The Surface Owners filed this declaratory judgment action against the Coal Owner asserting that they were the sole owners of the CBM produced from their land and that they were entitled to all the royalties therefrom. The circuit court granted judgment for the Surface Owners, declaring that the Surface Owners owned the CBM and were entitled to receive the royalties therefrom. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Surface Owners had at all times owned all mineral estates within their lands except coal, and therefore, the Surface Owners were entitled to all royalties accrued from the production of CBM produced from their land and those yet to accrue. View "Swords Creek Land P'ship v. Belcher" on Justia Law

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In 1887, Jacob and Marry Fuller conveyed the coal interests in their 414-acre tract to Joseph Doran and W.A. Dick. In 1918, W.T. Fuller, the successor in interest to the Fullers, conveyed to Unice Nuckles a seventy-five-acre portion of the 414-acre tract. Appellant, as lessee under the successors in interest to Nuckles, claimed the mineral rights, excluding coal, in the seventy-five acre tract. Appellees claimed those same rights as successors in interest to the Fullers. The circuit court concluded that the 1918 deed excepted all coals and minerals from the conveyance and that, therefore, Appellees owned the mineral estate. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the 1918 deed conveyed to Nuckles and her successors in interest all of the mineral estate in the seventy-five acres except the coal previously conveyed to others. View "CNX Gas Co. v. Rasnake" on Justia Law

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The Caroline County Board of Supervisors issued a special exception permit that approved the use of land adjacent to the Rappahannock River for a sand and gravel mining operation. Complainants, the Friends of the Rappahannock and several local landowners and one lessee, challenged the issuance of the permit by filing this declaratory judgment action. The circuit court dismissed the complaint, finding that Complainants lacked standing to bring the suit because the claims alleged were not supported by sufficient facts and because the allegations did not show a loss of a personal or property right different from that "suffered by the public generally." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not erroneously apply the aggrieved party standard in determining standing in this case; and (2) based on the insufficiency of allegations in their complaint, the individual complainants did not have standing to proceed.View "Friends of the Rappahannock v. Caroline County Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was (1) whether an ordinance authorizing the acquisition of an easement by condemnation also confers the authority to acquire the easement by an action to quiet title, and (2) whether the evidence in this case was sufficient to support the circuit court's ruling that the City of Virginia Beach proved an implied dedication of the disputed easements and whether the court erred in ruling that Lynnhaven Dunes Condominium Association was not entitled to compensation for its loss of riparian rights. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the authorizing ordinance fully encompassed the City's actions in bringing this condemnation proceeding, and the evidence was sufficient to support the circuit court's ruling that the City had proven it had acquired the easements by implied dedication; but (2) the circuit court erred in ruling that Lynnhaven's loss of riparian rights was non-compensable. View "Lynnhaven Dunes Condo. Ass'n v. City of Virginia Beach" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, Appalachian Power Company (APCO) sought rate adjustment clause recovery of $33.3 million in environmental compliance costs that the State Corporation Commission denied. The Supreme Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded, holding (1) APCO was entitled to a rate adjustment clause for recovery of actual costs it directly incurred for environmental compliance in 2009 and 2010 but did not recover through its base rates, and the portion of the Commission's decision denying recovery of environmental compliance costs on the basis that those costs were connected with projects included in APCO's base rates which APCO had the opportunity to recover was reversed; and (2) the portion of the Commission's decision denying APCO recovery of environmental compliance costs alleged to be embedded in the capacity equalization charges APCO paid to its affiliates in 2009 and 2010 was affirmed. Remanded. View "Appalachian Power Co. v. State Corp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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This case arose from two civil investigative demands (CIDs) issued to the University of Virginia and the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia (collectively, UVA) by the attorney general, pursuant to the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (FATA). The CIDs sought information relating to the research of a climate scientist that had taught at UVA, received a series of grants to fund his research, and, with other climate scientists, had allegedly falsified data to indicate an upturn in the earth's surface temperatures due to the use of fossil fuels. UVA petitioned the circuit court to set aside the CIDs, arguing that the attorney general had no statutory authority to serve CIDs upon agencies of the Commonwealth and that the CIDs were defective because they failed to state the nature of the conduct alleged. The circuit court granted the petition and set aside the CIDs, without prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, but, unlike the circuit court, set aside the CIDs with prejudice, holding that the University of Virginia, as an agency of the Commonwealth, did not constitute a "person" under the FATA and therefore could not be the proper subject of a CID. View "Cuccinelli v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Va." on Justia Law

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In this action, the trial court granted summary judgment against a locality, holding it liable to landowners under the State Water Control Law, Va. Code Ann. 62.1-44.2 through -44.34:28, in particular Code 62.1-44.34:18(C) of the Oil Discharge Law, for the contamination of groundwater by leachate and landfill gas. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment, holding that the trial court erred in awarding summary judgment to the landowners and finding the locality liable under the Oil Discharge Law, as the Oil Discharge Law does not apply to the passive, gradual seepage of leachate and landfill gas into groundwater. View "Campbell County v. Royal" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the court of appeals erred in (1) reversing a circuit court's judgment and applying the arbitrary and capricious standard of review to the State Water Control Board's decision to reissue a Virginia pollutant discharge elimination system permit to Virginia Electric and Power Company for its nuclear power station; and (2) reversing the circuit court and affirming the Board's determination that the discharge of heated water from the station into a waste heat treatment facility, classified as a "waste treatment facility" under state and federal regulations, did not require a separate discharge permit. For the reasons stated in Commonwealth v. Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Inc., the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Blue Ridge Envtl. Defense League v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law