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On February 22, 2021, the D.C. Circuit granted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) motion to stay the vacatur of the Trump administration’s Clean Power Plan Repeal Rule until EPA conducts further rulemaking on the issue in the case of American Lung Association v. EPA, No. 19-1140 (D.C. Cir., Feb. 22, 2021). This decision marks the latest action in the ongoing efforts by EPA and states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; particularly in terms of carbon emissions from currently existing power plants. For additional background, please see previous MGKF blog on this topic here.  Read More »

On February 18, 2021, the Court in Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, et al., v. Keystone Protein Co., No. 1:19-CV-01307, 2021 WL 632734, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 18, 2021), denied a factory owner’s motion for summary judgment based on its holding that the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) and the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law (“PCSL”) are not “roughly comparable” statutes. In so deciding, the plaintiffs’ citizen’s suit, alleging violations under the CWA, was allowed to proceed notwithstanding that the defendant factory had settled litigation with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) for the same violations under the PCSL. Read More »

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") and the National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS") (collectively, the "Services") finalized a rule defining the term "habitat" as used for designating "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act (the "ESA"). The ESA requires the Services to designate critical habitat for threatened and endangered species to conserve the ecosystems relied upon by these species. By definition, “critical habitat” includes both areas occupied and unoccupied by the species that are “essential to the conservation of the species.” Read More »

On January 19, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule (“ACE Rule”), which itself was a rollback of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (“CPP”); once again reshaping the heart of American climate policy. American Lung Association v. EPA, No. 19-1140 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 19, 2021). The CPP and ACE Rule both sought to regulate greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions from existing stationary sources but used highly divergent interpretations of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) to do so. In making its ruling, the Court called the Trump Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of the CAA a “fundamental misconstruction” of the statute and provided a lengthy analysis of its findings. Id. at 16. The Court ultimately held that because the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) based the ACE Rule “on an erroneous view of the law” (as opposed to having based the ACE Rule on a valid exercise of agency discretion), the court had no choice but to vacate the rule and remand it to the EPA for additional interpretation. Id. at 46. Because President Biden has described climate change as the “existential threat of our time,” the Biden EPA will likely use this opportunity to draft new rulemaking regarding the regulation of GHG emissions. Read More »

On December 10, 2020, Christmas came early for the federal government. In United States v. Shell Oil Company (CV 91-00589-CJC), the Central District of California awarded it nearly $50 million in costs to remediate waste generated by oil companies that produced World War II aviation fuel at the McColl Superfund Site in Fullerton, California. Though their liability had already been established in a 1993 Second Circuit decision, the companies sought to raise triable issues of fact on damages, and they also contended that the government’s statutory basis under CERCLA was improper. But the Court rejected these arguments and granted the government’s motion for summary judgment. Read More »

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan refused to void a private settlement agreement entered between Sierra Club and DTE in the face of an objection by the United States that the settlement agreement interfered with a related consent decree and infringed on the government’s enforcement authority. United States v. DTE Energy Co., et al., No. 10-CV-13101 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 3, 2020). Read More »

In State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., L.L.C. et al., No. 19-1818 (1st Cir. 2020), decided on October 29th, 2020, the First Circuit joined seven sister circuits in holding that the scope of appellate review of remand orders under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) is limited to the questions of federal-officer jurisdiction and civil rights jurisdiction. And while the holding does not break new ground in light of its consistency, it informs members of industry of the venue in which they will litigate climate change claims based in tort and state law providing environmental rights. Read More »

On October 22, 2020, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rejected a facial constitutional challenge to two statutory enactments that directed over $110 million generated from oil and gas leases on state lands to pay for the general government operations of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (“DCNR”), finding that the appropriations were not facially unconstitutional under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also called the Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”). Pa. Envtl. Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, No. 358 M.D. 2018 (Pa. Cmwlth.) (“PEDF IV”). Read More »

On August 19, 2020, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued what it hoped was “the third, and should be the last, opinion in these environmental pollution cases arising from World War II and the Korean War.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. United States, Nos. H-10-2386 & H-11-1814, slip op. at 1 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 19, 2020). The court’s decision provides a unique window into an allocation for recovery under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), a process more often conducted in private alternative dispute arrangements among potentially liable parties. Read More »

In a split decision that could have ramifications for future lawsuits involving the present pandemic, a majority panel in the Ninth Circuit held that the United States was not liable under CERCLA as an “operator” at the Lava Cap Mine Superfund Site when it ordered the mine to shut down during World War II. United States v. Sterling Centrecorp Inc., No. 18-15585 (9th Cir. Oct. 5, 2020). The decision will likely spell some relief for local, state, and federal officials that have issued similar shutdown orders across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read More »