Justia Wyoming Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Environmental Law
Fisher v. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal from the decision of the district court reversing the decision of the director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) denying Brook Mining Company's application for a permit to develop and operate a new surface coal mine, holding that the issues presented in this appeal were moot.The EQC concluded that the permit application was deficient and denied Brook Mining Company's application. The Director of the WDEQ then denied the permit. The district court reversed. While this appeal was pending, Brook Mining Company submitted a revised permit application. The Director issued a decision that approved the revised permit application. Also while the appeal was pending, the legislature changed the regulatory structure for the approval of new coal mine applications by removing the opportunity for an EQC contested case hearing prior to the Director's decision. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that the issues in this appeal do not continue to present a justiciable controversy and have thus become moot. View "Fisher v. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law
Berenergy Corp. v. BTU Western Resources, Inc.
At issue was whether this case presented a justiciable issue when the Supreme Court could not render a decision binding on a federal agency and could only offer an advisory opinion that may or may not ultimately bind the parties.Berenergy Corporation, which produced oil from several sites under oil and gas leases granted by the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), sought a declaratory judgment that the terms of its BLM oil leases provided it with rights superior to any obtained by Peabody Energy Corporation through its coal leases. The district court granted in part and denied in part both parties’ motions for summary judgment. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings before the district court, holding (1) Congress intended that the issues raised by Berenergy be decided by the Secretary of the Interior or its BLM designees; (2) there was no express consent by the federal government for the Secretary or the BLM to be made a party to suits such as this for the purpose of informing a congressionally approved decision by the district court; but (3) the court nonetheless remands this case for an evaluation of whether a federal agency may participate in this suit. View "Berenergy Corp. v. BTU Western Resources, Inc." on Justia Law
Whitt v. Hat Bar Cattle Co.
This proceeding was the third and final phase of the general adjudication of water rights in the Big Horn River. The State recommended adjudicating water rights for fifty-two acres of land owned by Hat Bar Cattle Company. Neighboring landowner Betty Whitt objected to the recommendation. After a contested case hearing, the Special Master recommended adjudicating the right to irrigate the fifty-two acres at issue. The district court adopted the Special Master’s report and recommendation and adjudicated Hat Bar’s rights. Whitt appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Special Master correctly applied the burden of proof and that the finding regarding beneficial use of the water were not clearly erroneous. View "Whitt v. Hat Bar Cattle Co." on Justia Law
In re Gen. Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in Big Horn River Sys.
In the third and final phase of the general adjudication of water rights in the Big Horn River, the Wyoming Board of Control recommended elimination of certain unused and unadjudicated water rights under Farmers Canal Permit 854, including that rights to irrigate Tract 109. Frank Mohr, the owner of Tract 109, objected, admitting that Tract 109 had never been adjudicated under the Farmers Canal Permit but was adjudicated under the Perkins Ditch Enlargment Permit. In conjunction with his application for that permit, Mohr’s predecessor submitted an affidavit relinquishing his right to water under the Farmers Canal Permit. The Special Master recommended elimination of Tract 109 from the Farmers Canal Permit, finding that relinquishment of the Farmers Canal Permit by Mohr’s predecessor was final and not subject to attack by Mohr. The district court approved the Special Master’s recommendation, concluding that Tract 109 was serviced under the Perkins Ditch Enlargement and not the Farmers Canal Permit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mohr was bound by the acts of his predecessor-in-interest and the previous adjudication of water rights to Tract 109; and (2) the district court gave Mohr a fair opportunity to present his case in accordance with the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure. View "In re Gen. Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in Big Horn River Sys." on Justia Law
Powder River Basin Res. Council v. Wyo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm’n
Recently-adopted regulations required companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing to disclose the chemical compounds used in the process to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Appellants sought from the Commission disclosure of certain chemicals used in several companies’ hydraulic fracturing products. The Commission Supervisor refused to disclose the information, concluding that it was exempt from public disclosure as trade secrets under the Wyoming Public Records Act (WPRA). Appellants sought review of the Supervisor’s decision. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the district court did not have the authority to evaluate the Supervisor’s decision using an administrative standard of review, and rather, should have used the procedures specified in the WPRA; and (2) the definition of a trade secret under the WPRA is the one articulated by federal courts under the Freedom of Information Act. View "Powder River Basin Res. Council v. Wyo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm’n" on Justia Law
Aland v. Mead
Pursuant to the Wyoming Public Records Act, Plaintiff requested from the Office of the Governor and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (together, the State) documents related to the status of grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act. The State provided some documents and withheld others on grounds of the deliberative process privilege and the attorney-client communication privilege. The district court held (1) the Act incorporates the deliberative process privilege as a ground to exempt documents from disclosure under the Act, and the documents withheld under the deliberative process privilege were properly withheld by the State; and (2) two of the three documents withheld under the attorney-client privilege were properly withheld. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the district court’s ruling with respect to the documents withheld under the attorney-client privilege; (2) affirmed the district court’s ruling that the Act incorporates the deliberate process privilege; but (3) concluded that some of the documents withheld pursuant to the deliberative process privilege were not properly withheld because they were outside the scope of the privilege’s protection. View "Aland v. Mead" on Justia Law
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Wyo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm’n
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved Cimarex Energy Company's plan to reinject waste carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into a producing natural gas formation in southwest Wyoming over the objection of Exxon Mobil Corporation. Exxon appealed. The district court affirmed the Commission's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the Commission properly denied Exxon's petition for a rehearing; but (2) the Commission failed to provide sufficient findings of fact as to whether Cimarex's plan to reinject carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide would result in waste of natural gas and improperly interfere with Exxon's correlative rights. Remanded to the Commission to make appropriate findings of both basic and ultimate facts. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Wyo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm'n" on Justia Law
N. Laramie Range Found. v. Converse County Bd. of County Comm’rs
The case involved two permitting actions for a wind energy project in the mountains of Converse County. Objectors included the Northern Laramie Range Alliance (NLRA) and Northern Laramie Range Foundation (NLRF). In the first case (Case 1), Objectors challenged the district court's affirmance of the County Board of County Commissioners (Board) decision to grant Wasatch Wind Intermountain, LLC's (Wasatch) application for a Wind Energy Conversion System Permit (WECS permit). They also challenged the court's rulings that NLRA and NLRF did not have standing to appeal the Board's decision. In the second case (Case 2), Objectors challenged the district court's affirmance of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Industrial Siting Council's (ISC) decision to grant a state industrial siting permit for construction of the project. In Case 1, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) NLRA had standing but NLRF did not; and (2) the Board properly granted Wasatch's application for a WECS permit. In Case 2, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ISC acted within its authority in granting the industrial siting permit, and there was sufficient evidence to justify its decision. View "N. Laramie Range Found. v. Converse County Bd. of County Comm'rs" on Justia Law
Wyo. Dep’t of Env’t Quality v. Wyo. Outdoor Council
This appeal involved the issuance by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Qualify (DEQ) of two general permits for the discharge of produced water from coal bed methane operations. A petroleum corporation and oil company (Appellants) appealed the DEQ's decision to the Environmental Quality Council (EQC). The Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC) also sought review of the DEQ's decision to issue the general permits. The EQC rejected WOC's claim that general permits were rules and had to be promulgated through the rulemaking procedures set forth in the Wyoming APA. The district court reversed, determining that DEQ was required to promulgate the general permits as rules. The district court also rejected the argument by Appellants that WOC was not entitled to seek EQC review of the DEQ's decision to issue the general permits, ruling that the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act did allow WOC to seek administrative review by the EQC. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) DEQ was not required to promulgate the general permits as administrative rules; and (2) WOC was entitled to EQC review of DEQ's decision to issue the general permits. View "Wyo. Dep't of Env't Quality v. Wyo. Outdoor Council " on Justia Law
Garber v. Wagonhound Livestock & Land Company, LLC
Applicants Wagonhound Land and Livestock Company, LLC, VenJohn Oil, Inc., and Steven M. VenJohn filed a petition with the Wyoming State Board of Control seeking to change the place of use, point of diversion and means of conveyance for water appropriations attached to 174.8 acres. VenJohn owned the appropriations from the North Platte River and requested that the point of diversion and place of use of the rights be moved upstream to Wagonhound’s land. Vic and Jane Garber and several others who were intervening water right holders, objected to the petition, and the Board held a contested case hearing. The Board granted the Applicants’ petition but reduced the transferred rights to 152.5 acres. The Objectors unsuccessfully petitioned the district court for review of the Board decision. On appeal to the Supreme Court, they challenged: the sufficiency of the evidence presented in the Board's record; and whether the final decision was in violation of Wyo. Stats. 41-3-104 and 41-3-114. Although the Objectors claimed the defects in the original petition required reversal of the Board’s decision, the Supreme Court found that they did not sufficiently explain why the amendment process was inappropriate or how it violated statute or board rules. The Objectors also did not demonstrate how the other landowners were injured by the petition or the process employed by the Board. Without further explanation, the Court could not accept their argument, and affirmed the Board's decision. View "Garber v. Wagonhound Livestock & Land Company, LLC" on Justia Law