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Showing 16 posts from 2017.

On June 7, 2017, the Commonwealth Court upheld a zoning ordinance allowing oil and gas drilling in mixed use agricultural and residential areas of a Butler County municipality because the pre-existing zoning code had already allowed construction of what the Court found were substantially similar public utility structures. 

The issues in Delaware Riverkeeper et al. v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board v. R.E. Gas Development LLC et al., 1229 CD 2015, 1323 CD 2015, 2609 CD 2015, arose out of Middlesex Township’s Ordinance 127, enacted in 2014, which sought to add a “oil and gas well site development” use within a Residential-Agricultural (“R-AG”) District. Environmental groups, the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, appealed the Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board’s enactment of the ordinance, upheld by the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, which found in part that the added language was a permissible extension of the already existing zoning provisions. Read More »

In a 2-1 decision last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals declined to dismiss a lawsuit against Dow Chemical in connection with dioxin contamination in the soils of the Tittabawassee River flood plain. Henry v. Dow Chemical Co., LC No. 03-047775-NZ (Mich. Ct. App. June 1, 2017).  Affirming the lower court’s denial of Dow’s motion for summary disposition, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the plaintiffs’ claims for negligence and nuisance were barred by the applicable statute of limitations even though the public was made aware of potential dioxin contamination in the river from Dow’s operations as early as 1984.  The Court’s analysis, which was accompanied by a dissenting opinion, turned on the fact that Dow failed to support its motion with evidence that the floodplain soils on the plaintiffs’ property were contaminated as far back as the 1980s.  Read More »

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) recently stirred up some controversy. Last month, in Lancaster Against Pipelines v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2016-075-L (May 10, 2017), the Board held that it has jurisdiction to review actions taken by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) involving interstate natural gas pipelines, despite a 2013 decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania that held precisely the opposite. Read More »

Last week, the Second Circuit issued an unpublished decision affirming an earlier decision of the Eastern District of New York that stands for the principle that a passive lessee that subleases a property to an unaffiliated tenant is neither an “Owner” nor an “Operator” under CERCLA. Next Millenium Realty, LLC v. Adchem Corp., No. 16-1260-cv, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 8476 (2d Cir. May 11, 2017).  Read More »

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling to decertify a class action filed by landowners for releases from Exxon’s 850-mile Pegasus Pipeline that crosses four states from Texas to Illinois.  The case, Webb, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., et al., Dkt. No. 15-2879 (8th Cir., May 11, 2017), was filed by a group of landowners who claimed that Exxon materially breached the terms of their right-of-way easement agreements by allegedly failing to inspect, maintain, repair, and replace the pipeline, which was originally installed in the mid-1940s.  At various times since the 1980s, the pipeline had releases in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, which the plaintiffs claim resulted in damage to their properties.  The plaintiffs sought to rescind their right-of-way easement agreements and force Exxon to remove or replace the entire pipeline, or in the alternative, to be paid damages for breach of contract and diminution in property value.  Read More »

Last week, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held in a unanimous decision that latent environmental property contamination triggered several comprehensive general liability (“CGL”) insurance policies despite the fact that the contamination was not discovered until at least a decade later. In doing so, the Court resolved a question left open by two earlier Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions over whether latent property damage in “occurrence” policies is triggered at the time the damage occurs or when the damage first manifests itself.     Read More »

In a unanimous decision of a three judge panel last week, the Second Circuit decided that it lacked jurisdiction to overturn a S.D.N.Y. judge’s order enforcing the terms of the Tronox bankruptcy settlement against a group of more than 4,000 Pennsylvania state court plaintiffs. Tronox, Inc. v. Kerr-McGee Corp., No. 16-343, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 6949 (2d Cir. Apr. 20, 2017).  Both the district court’s decision and the Second Circuit’s decision protected Kerr-McGee, bankrupt Tronox’s corporate parent, from a Pennsylvania toxic tort suit related to contamination surrounding a wood treatment plant in Avoca, Pennsylvania. Read More »

One of the finest lines that environmental attorneys walk is in protecting communications between counsel and a retained environmental consultant from disclosure in litigation.  In a recent case out of the Northern District of Indiana, Valley Forge Ins. Co. v. Hartford Iron & Metal, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-00006 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 14, 2017), the Court found that communications between counsel and consultants retained by the counsel  were not protected by the attorney-client privilege, in large part because the consultants also performed remedial work.  However, as the work was done "in anticipation of litigation" with, among others, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and EPA, substantive communications were protected by the attorney work product doctrine.   Read More »

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Spill Act contribution claims against the State of New Jersey for events prior to April 1, 1977 – the date the statute was enacted – are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.  This ruling places the State on an unequal footing with private parties for historic environmental liability under the Spill Act, and in effect, creates an automatic orphan share for pre-1977 sites where the State would otherwise have liability.  Read More »

Under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), it is well established that any entity discharging pollutants into the surface waters of the United States from a “point source” must obtain a permit. But courts have disagreed on whether the CWA also encompasses groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water.  Last week, a federal district court in Virginia followed a line of cases in holding that the CWA does cover the discharge of pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water. Sierra Club v. Va. Elec. & Power Co., Civil Action No. 2:15-CV-112 (E.D. Va. Mar. 23, 2017). Read More »