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Do indirect discharges of pollutants into navigable waters amount to a violation of the Clean Water Act? On February 1st, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al. v. County of Maui, No. 15-17447, that discharges of pollutants originating from a point source violate the Clean Water Act even if the pollutants first enter another means of conveyance—in this case groundwater—before entering into a navigable waterway. Despite recent EPA efforts to roll back certain environmental regulations, the court gave no deference to EPA’s amicus curiae proposed liability rule requiring a “direct hydrological connection” between the point source and the navigable water. Read More »

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) issued an adjudication in Logan v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2016-091-L (Adjudication issued Jan. 29, 2018), in which the Board dismissed an appeal challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) issuance of an air quality plan approval to Purdue Agribusiness LLC (“Purdue”) for construction of a soybean solvent extraction plant. In upholding the plan approval, the Board rejected the appellants’ argument that DEP’s issuance of the plan approval violated Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. Read More »

A group of private landowners ended of 2017 with a Montana Supreme Court ruling, in Atlantic Richfield Company v. Montana Second Judicial District Court, that they could proceed with their state law claims for restoration damages against the owner of a site contaminated by a former copper smelter. No. 16-0555, 2017 WL 6629410 (Mont. December 29, 2017). In a split decision, the Court found that the landowners’ claims for restoration damages were not preempted by the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) because the claims did not constitute a challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s established cleanup plan for the Site. Read More »

On January 22, as Philadelphia Eagles fans continued to celebrate the team’s NFC Championship victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the U.S. Supreme Court was busy issuing a unanimous opinion in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense concerning the Waters of the United States Rule (“Rule”) promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) in 2015. The Rule defines the statutory term “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, and has been subject to appeals in both federal district courts and courts of appeals. On October 11, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument addressing whether appeals of the Rule should be filed first in either the district court or the court of appeals, and held today that because the Rule does not fall within one of the Clean Water Act’s (“Act”) seven enumerated categories of EPA actions for which the courts of appeal have jurisdiction, appeals of the Rule must first proceed in district court. Read More »

A putative class of plaintiffs who allege to have lived in a defined geographic area around a manufacturing plant in Merrimack, New Hampshire, or have been served by the town’s municipal water supply, sued the manufacturer in federal court, alleging property damage claims and exposure to perfluorooctanoate (AFPO) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that warrants medical monitoring.  Brown v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. et al., No. 16-cv-242, 2017 WL 6043956 (D.N.H. Dec. 6, 2017).  The plaintiffs’ claims were styled as common law claims for negligence, trespass, nuisance, and negligent failure to warn, as well as an equitable claim for “negative unjust enrichment” on the theory that the manufacturer was unjustly enriched by avoiding costs associated with preventing the release of contaminants.  The Court dismissed the unjust enrichment count but allowed the remaining claims to proceed. Read More »

In 2014, the Town of Westport, Massachusetts (Westport) brought suit against Monsanto Company (Monsanto) seeking to recover costs it had and would incur in remediating PCB-containing caulk used in the construction of the Westport Middle School in 1969.  Through a series of pretrial motions, the district court eventually dismissed all claims against Monsanto and its related entities, and in the recent decision of Town of Westport v. Monsanto, No. 17-1461, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 24827 (1st Cir. Dec. 8, 2017), the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s actions, dealing a blow to purchasers of PCB-containing building materials seeking similar recoveries.  Read More »

On November 8, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) issued an adjudication in Friends of Lackwanna v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2015-063-L (Adjudication issued Nov. 8, 2017), in which the Board upheld the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) issuance of a renewal of Keystone Sanitary Landfill, Inc’s (“Keystone”) solid waste management permit for the Keystone Landfill. At the same time, the Board added a condition to the permit requiring Keystone to prepare a groundwater assessment plan based on groundwater degradation observed in one of its monitoring wells. Interspersed throughout this decision was language that shed additional light on the Board’s view of how Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, often referred to as the Environmental Rights Amendment, applies to DEP permitting decisions. Read More »

In a decision issued earlier this month, Judge Wolfson of the District of New Jersey held that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) could recover primary restoration natural resource damages from a responsible party as long as NJDEP demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that its proposed primary restoration plan is “practicable.” New Jersey Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. Amerada Hess Corp., No. 15-6468 (FLW)(LHG) (D.N.J. Nov. 1, 2017).  In so holding, Judge Wolfson rejected an argument by the defendants, including Exxon Mobil Corporation and ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (“Defendants”), that primary restoration natural resource damages were available only upon a showing of “an injury or threat to human health, flora, or fauna.”  The court found that such a standard, which was derived by Defendants from unpublished, non-controlling authority from New Jersey state courts, was inconsistent with the plain language of the Spill Act that speaks directly in terms of “practicability.” Read More »

A bit over two years ago, we reported here on the district court decision in TDY Holdings v. United States, 122 F. Supp. 3d 998  (S.D. Cal. 2015), in which the court allocated 0% liability to the United States, despite the fact that it was an undisputed PRP at the site.  The decision was surprising at the time and, as with many surprising decisions, it did not survive on appeal as earlier this month the Ninth Circuit held in TDY Holdings v. United States, No. 15-56483, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 19371 (9th Cir. Oct. 4, 2017), that TDY, a military contractor, was not solely responsible for remediation costs incurred at a former aeronautical manufacturing plant and thus remanded the matter back to the lower court to take another pass at allocating liability among the two parties.  The Ninth Circuit’s opinion thus allows military contractors seeking contribution from the government for remediation costs incurred at former defense sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to breathe a long sigh of relief. Read More »

The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), better known as Superfund, provides private parties with two types of claims to recover costs associated with investigating and remediating contaminated sites – a cost recovery claim under CERCLA Section 107(a), 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a), and a contribution claim under Section 113(f), 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f).  A party has a claim for contribution under CERCLA Section 113(f)(3)(B) if that party has “resolved its liability to the United States or a State for some or all of a response action or for some or all of the costs of such action in an administrative or judicially approved settlement.”  A party can therefore settle its liability for a contaminated site with the EPA or a state government, and then seek to recover a portion of the costs of that settlement from other potentially responsible parties who contributed to the contamination at the site.  But, CERCLA imposes a 3-year statute of limitations on Section 113 contribution actions, which begins to run from the date of entry of the administrative or judicially approved settlement.  While at first, this may appear to be a cut-and-dry statute of limitations, there is ample case law exploring the nuances of what it means for a party to have “resolved” its liability with the government such that the 3-year statute of limitations begins to run.  Last month, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit added to that growing body of case law, in Asarco, LLC v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 866 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017). Read More »