Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter of the Office of Administrative Hearings on Monday denied the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss in Owens v. NC Department of Environmental Quality. The Perquimans County case, concerning a major wind energy facility, will now proceed to the merits of whether the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) acted contrary to statute when it notified Iberdrola Renewables that it is not subject to state permitting standards.
On September 25, CLF filed suit against the NC Department of Environmental Quality on behalf of county residents Stephen Owens and Jillanne Gigi Badawi, alleging that they were aggrieved by the agency’s determination that Iberdrola Renewables’ Amazon Wind Farm East was not subject to state permitting standards.
DEQ’s counsel from the Attorney General’s Office advanced several arguments in favor of dismissal, chief among which was that petitioners Owens and Badawi, who are husband and wife, lacked standing to bring their claims. The counsel from the AG’s Office also argued that the couple failed to file their petition in a timely manner, despite the fact that DEQ never gave them proper notice of its decision.
“DEQ never gave our clients notice of its decision because it did not consider them to be ‘aggrieved,’ and then tried to argue that their petition was not timely because it was filed after it gave notice to Iberdrola,” CLF Lead Counsel Elliot Engstrom said. “If that argument were to hold up, administrative agencies in North Carolina would essentially be able to decide who could and could not bring suit against them based on their own determinations of who is ‘aggrieved’ by their decisions.”
Engstrom is joined by Dr. David Schnare, General Counsel for the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E). Dr. Schnare has been admitted pro hac vice to practice before the Office of Administrative Hearings in this case, and helped craft the arguments against dismissal.
“This is an important step forward,” Schnare said. “The ruling affirms that the petitioners have standing to bring this suit under North Carolina law. We can now argue the merits of why and how the NC Department of Environmental Quality broke the law.”
The case will now proceed to a contested case hearing in early 2016.