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On September 3, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, vacated the lower court’s determination that liability for remediating the environmental harm associated with a groundwater plume was divisible under Section 107 of CERCLA. In Von Duprin LLC v. Major Holdings, LLC, the environmental harm stemmed from a groundwater plume created from decades of known pollution involving four parcels and primarily four parties. No. 20-1711 (7th Cir. Sept. 3, 2021). As we reported here, the trial court’s apportionment of liability appeared to intermingle factors relevant to both an allocation and apportionment of liability. The appellate court found the same, and vacated the trial court’s apportionment of liability due in part to the apparent application of factors relevant to an allocation of joint liability. At a threshold level, the appellate court also vacated the trial court’s determination at summary judgment that a reasonable basis existed to apportion liability based on causal factors, rather than allocate joint liability based on equitable factors. The appellate court affirmed, however, the trial court’s holdings related to the bona fide prospective purchaser (BFPP) defense, compliance with the National Contingency Plan (NCP), and the admission of expert testimony. Read More »

On August 19, 2021, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued yet another decision rejecting the government’s effort to avoid responsibility for cleanup costs stemming from the plaintiff oil companies’ World War II-era, government-ordered production of aviation fuel. Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. United States, No. 20-1784. This time, the government argued that the Court lacked jurisdiction over the dispute, and that plaintiff Texaco’s predecessor and the government entered into a mutual release foreclosing the instant liability. Read More »

On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a district court order dismissing claims for violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq. See Revitalizing Auto Cmtys. Envtl. Response Tr. v. Nat'l Grid USA, No. 20-1931-cv (2d Cir. Aug. 18, 2021). The Court held that the claims, which were brought under sections 107 and 113 of CERCLA, were prudentially ripe because they were based on costs plaintiffs had already incurred for which they might not receive repayment through EPA investigation. Id. Read More »

On August 4, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rebuked the government’s “overly technical” attempt under res judicata to avoid responsibility for cleanup costs stemming from the large-scale production of aviation fuel as part of the World War II effort. Shell Oil Co. v. United States (No. 20-2221). “In doing so,” the Court explained, it “hope[d] to put an end to the government’s continued resistance to making payments . . . it is obligated to make.” Read More »

On August 3, 2021, in the Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (“MTBE”) MDL the Court ruled that while the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's alter ego allegations were sufficient to pierce the corporate veil as between defendants Lukoil Americas Corporation and its subsidiary Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. for jurisdictional purposes, they were not sufficient to pierce the veil for liability purposes, nor was there successor liability, resulting in the dismissal of all claims against LAC. Read More »

This Blog Post was authored by Omar Khodor, a summer associate.

On June 23, 2021, the Ninth Circuit, in directing the lower court to dismiss a citizen’s suit claim under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), held that the CWA did not abrogate tribal sovereign immunity. Deschutes River All. v. Portland Gen. Elec. Co., No. 18-35867, 2021 WL 2559477 (9th Cir. June 23, 2021). To abrogate a Tribe’s sovereign immunity, the Ninth Circuit explained that a statute must convey “perfect confidence” that Congress intended to abrogate tribal sovereign immunity. Id. at 14. It further found that the CWA does not unequivocally do so because Section 1365 – a section explicitly dealing with United States and governmental sovereign immunity – does not mention tribal sovereign immunity. Id. at 15-16. Rather, Section 1365 states that “any citizen may commence a civil action on his own behalf . . . against any person (including (i) the United States, and (ii) any other governmental instrumentality or agency to the extent permitted by the eleventh amendment to the Constitution).” 33 U.S.C. § 1365. Although Section 1362(5) of the CWA goes on to define “any person” as a municipality (among other things), and Section 1362(4) further defines a “municipality” as including an “Indian Tribe or an authorized Indian Tribal organization,” the court determined that Congress had not clearly intended to abrogate tribal sovereign immunity because Tribes are not included in Section 1365. Deschutes River All., 2021 WL 2559477 at *15-16. Read More »

This Blog Post was authored by Brielle Brown, a summer associate.  Originally published on July 7, 2021, it has been updated to reflect that after a rehearing, the decision was affirmed on July 20, 2021.

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit held on June 21, 2021, that air emission exceedances governed by a state air permit and duly reported to state or local authorities pursuant to the permit need not be reported again to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) pursuant to the Section 103 reporting requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). Clean Air Council v. U.S. Steel Corp., 2 F.4th 112 (3d Cir. 2021); 42 U.S.C. § 9603. The decision was reheard and affirmed on July 20, 2021. Clean Air Council v. U.S. Steel Corp., No. 20-2215, -- F.4th --, 2021 WL 3045927 (3d Cir., July 20, 2021). The court’s reasoning came down to an interpretation of CERCLA that the phrase “subject to” was intended to mean “governed or affected by” rather than “obedient to.” Id. at *3–4. Thus, air emissions that violate relevant Clean Air Act permits are nevertheless “subject to” that permit and therefore exempt from CERCLA’s reporting requirement. Id. Read More »

On Tuesday, June 29, 2021, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit and held that Section 717f(h) of the Natural Gas Act authorizes Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certificate holders to “condemn all necessary rights-of-way, including land in which the State holds an interest.” See PennEast Pipeline Co., LLC v. New Jersey, Slip Op. No. 19-1039, (June 29, 2021). This holding is consistent with history and precedent regarding the superior power of federal eminent domain. Read More »

On June 25, 2021, the Supreme Court, reversing the Tenth Circuit, held that a small refinery that had previously received an exemption from certain requirements of the renewable fuel standard (“RFS”) program was eligible for an extension of that exemption, even if it had had a lapse in coverage in previous years. See HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining, LLC, v. Renewable Fuels Association, et al., Slip Op. 20-472 (June 25, 2021). Petitioners, three small fuel refineries, had each applied for a hardship exemption under the RFS program, and the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) had granted each request. Those exemptions were then challenged by a group of renewable fuel producers. The Tenth Circuit ultimately sided with the renewable fuel producers, holding that because each refinery had allowed its previously held exemption to lapse at times in the past, each was no longer eligible to receive an extension of the original exemption. After hearing oral argument in April 2021, the Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit and held that the text of the statute does not require that the exemption be continually held in order to remain valid. Read More »

This Blog Post was authored by Timothy Johnson, a summer associate.

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania concluded that the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) erred in its dismissal of the petitioners’ appeal of the approval of a compressor station plan by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Cole v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Env't Prot., No. 1577 C.D. 2019, 2021 WL 2420667 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2021). In doing so, the Court held that Section 717r(d)(1) of the federal Natural Gas Act, which provides that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over “civil actions” for review of an approval or denial of a permit or approval required by federal law, does not preclude state administrative agency review of state permitting decisions. Accordingly, the EHB’s review of the matter was not preempted. Read More »