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Earlier this month, for the first time a New Jersey trial court applied the often pled, but seldom effective, laches defense to bar a private-party claim for contribution under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act (the “Spill Act”).  Laches is an equitable principle that can be used to defend a claim that has become too “stale” by the plaintiff’s unreasonable delay in pursuing the claim, and where the defendant has suffered some harm from the delay.  Laches can bar a claim even if the plaintiff initiates the lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, or where no statute of limitations exists – such is the case for private party contribution claims under the Spill Act, which last year the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed in Morristown Assoc. v. Grant Oil Co., 220 N.J. 360 (2015) are not subject to any statute of limitations.  In light of the Morristown decision, private claims for contribution under the Spill Act could therefore be brought decades after the discovery of contamination at a site.   Read More »

In the recent decision of United States of America v. Boston and Maine Corporation, C.A. No. 13-10087-IT (D. Mass. Sept. 22, 2016), a Massachusetts federal judge ruled that issuance of a ROD was the completion date of a removal action for statute of limitations purposes even though the actual remedial activities had been completed nearly 13 years earlier.  In reaching this conclusion, the Court also examined the often vexing distinction between removal and remedial activities and the question of what constitutes a “facility” under CERCLA. Given the posture of the case, the decision may also serve to underscore the deference courts often afford to the federal government when it, rather than a private party, is seeking to recover costs.    Read More »

Three public-water-system-operating California cities brought suit in the Northern District of California against Monsanto alleging that Monsanto’s manufacture and sale of PCB-containing products from the 1930s through the 1970s caused pollution that increased the cities’ cost and ability to comply with federal stormwater discharge regulations for discharge into the San Francisco Bay.  Monsanto sought to dismiss the claims and in City of San Jose v. Monsanto Company, Nos. 15-3178, 15-5152, & 16-0071 (N.D.CA. Aug. 22, 2016), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted the motion, but allowed the municipalities to amend their complaints as to their nuisance causes of action. Read More »

In a case of first impression in the Third Circuit, the Honorable Eduardo C. Robreno has held that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) may not, under CERCLA, recover costs from current landowners if the costs were incurred prior to the owner's purchase of contaminated property.  In PADEP v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC, No. 15-1232 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 30, 2016), PADEP sought to recover, among other things, over $800,000 in electricity bills which it had paid prior to October, 2012 to keep certain remediation equipment operating at the Stoney Creek Technologies Superfund Site (the “Site”), which Site was subsequently purchased by the defendant, Trainer Custom Chemical, LLC.  PADEP's claim for such costs was rejected by Judge Robreno, who held that “a new owner is not liable for recovery costs incurred before he took ownership of the facility.”  Id. at *21. Read More »

In a decision issued today in Pa. Independent Oil & Gas Assoc. v. Commonwealth, No. 321 M.D. 2015, a seven-member panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that Section 3215(c) of Act 13, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, remains enforceable despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013).  Section 3215(c) provides that when making a determination on a proposed oil and gas well, DEP “shall consider” the impact of the proposed well on public resources, including parks, rivers, landmarks, historic sites, flora and fauna habitat, and public drinking water sources.  Read More »

Last week, a federal court in the Central District of Illinois held the owner and operator of a coal-fired power plant liable for violations of the Clean Air Act for exceeding particulate matter emission thresholds in the plant’s state operating permit.  NRDC v. Ill. Power Res., LLC, No. 13-cv-1181, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111976 (C.D. Ill. Aug. 23, 2016).  The court found that the plaintiffs—three environmental advocacy organizations who filed suit under the citizen suit provision of the CAA—had standing to sue the plant because certain of their individual members suffered injury-in-fact where emitted pollutants that “could cause harm” were present in the witnesses’ general geographic area and the witnesses’ pleasure was somehow diminished by the presence of the pollutants, even where the witnesses could not point to an objective effect of the alleged violation. Read More »

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down challenges by environmental organizations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of an expansion of the Transcontinental pipeline, a 10,000-mile pipeline that extends from South Texas to New York City and is operated by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (“Transco”).  In doing so, however, the Court held that the environmental organizations had properly invoked a provision of the federal Natural Gas Act to challenge water quality-related permits issued by the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Thus, the decision, Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot, No. 15-2122 (3d Cir. August 8, 2016), provides that the Court of Appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to permits issued to an interstate natural gas facility to certify compliance with State water quality standards promulgated under federal supervision, as well as with federally-established Clean Water Act requirements.   Read More »

Several years ago we reported on Community Action & Environmental Justice v. Union Pacific Corporation, in which a California District Court held the dispersion into the air of particulate matter that reaches the ground or water did not constitute a “disposal” subject to RCRA but, instead, was subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.  That District Court opinion was affirmed in 2014, in Community Action & Environmental Justice v. Union Pacific Corporation, 764 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 2014).  Yesterday, in the case of Pakootas v. Teck Cominco Metals, No. 15-35228 (9th Cir. July 27, 2016), the Ninth Circuit expanded this analysis of the relative roles of our environmental laws by holding that a party who disperses air pollutants that eventually settle into the ground or water are not arrangers liable under CERCLA as they have not “disposed of” hazardous substances under the Act. Read More »

Earlier this month, a Michigan federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a coalition of plaintiffs seeking to force multiple city and state defendants to fix the city of Flint, Michigan’s water supply system.  The lawsuit arose from the crisis regarding lead contamination in Flint’s water supply, which has garnered national attention.  In the decision, Concerned Pastors for Soc. Action v. Khouri, No. 16-10277 (E.D. Mich. July 7, 2016), U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson rejected numerous attacks asserted by the defendants in a motion to dismiss.  Perhaps most notably, the judge rejected the argument that the federal court should defer to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) primary jurisdiction under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).    Read More »

Last week, the United States Supreme Court held that federal courts can review the Army Corps of Engineers’ determinations that a landowner’s property contains “waters of the United States” and is therefore subject to the Clean Water Act’s regulations and permitting process.  Remarkably, the decision was unanimous in affirming the Eighth Circuit’s decision that such determinations are considered final agency actions under the Administrative Procedures Act and are therefore reviewable by the courts.  The majority opinion in the case, United States Army Corps of Eng'rs v. Hawkes Co., No. 15-290 (U.S. May 31, 2016), was authored by Chief Justice Roberts while Justices Kennedy, Kagan, and Ginsberg each authored separate concurring opinions.   Read More »