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This Blog Post was authored by Isaiah B. Kramer, a summer associate.

On June 7, 2021, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed in part a decision of the Appellate Division and held that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“the Department”) may bring an enforcement action against a county under the State’s Solid Wastes Disposal Sites and and Facilities Act (“the SWA”). Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs of La Plata v. Colo. Dep’t of Pub. Health, 2021 CO 43. In doing so, the Court found that the county was neither protected by sovereign immunity nor otherwise exempt from the reach of the SWA. Read More »

On May 17, 2021, the Supreme Court vacated an appellate court decision which had remanded to state court an action seeking to hold petroleum companies liable for the effects of climate change, finding that the appellate court impermissibly restricted the scope of its review of a district court’s order. Although, as noted by the Supreme Court, “[t]he only question before us is one of civil procedure,” the case of BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Docket No. 19-1189 (May 17, 2021) may have a profound practical impact on ongoing environmental litigation. Read More »

Less than a month after hearing oral arguments, the United States Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Guam v. United States, Docket No. 20-382 (May 24, 2021), the eagerly anticipated opinion on whether consent decrees and administrative orders that do not expressly resolve liability for claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) nevertheless give rise to a claim for contribution under Section 113(f)(3) of CERCLA. The issue is a crucial one and has been the subject of numerous court opinions because of the short, three-year limitations period for contribution actions. The opinion, which the Court intended to provide clarity in the area, holds that only settlements that release “CERCLA-specific liability” trigger the right to contribution. Read More »

Earlier this month, the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court for the Southern District of New York’s ruling that state common law claims against oil companies for costs resulting from climate change were either preempted by the Clean Air Act, or, in the case of foreign emissions, represented a non-justiciable political question. See City of New York v. Chevron Corp., 993 F.3d 81, 2021 WL 1216541 (2d Cir. 2021). The decision represents the first time an appellate court has had the opportunity to rule on the merits of the federal preemption defense raised by defendants. Although there are active lawsuits in other jurisdictions where plaintiffs have made substantially similar claims, decisions in the other active climate change suits thus far have been restricted to the issue of whether climate change suits brought in state court were properly removed to federal court. The decisions in those cases, therefore, have not addressed the merits of the federal preemption defense. (The Supreme Court is predicted to issue a ruling on the removal issue by the end of its term in June. See Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. BP p.l.c., et al., 388 F. Supp. 3d 538, 548 (D. Md.), as amended (June 20, 2019), aff’d, 952 F.3d 452 (4th Cir.), cert. granted, 141 S. Ct. 222 (2020)). Read More »

On March 31, 2021, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a district court decision interpreting the term “claim” in an indemnification agreement to require some threat of suit or assertion of liability under Minnesota law. Finding that mere notice of potential liability failed to meet that standard, the Court held that under the terms of the agreement, the buyer, Wisconsin Central, Ltd. (“Wisconsin Central”), must indemnify a seller, Soo Line Railroad Company (“Soo Line”), for liability arising under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). Wisconsin Central LTD v. Soo Line Railroad Co., No. 19-3129 (7th Cir. Mar. 31, 2021). Read More »

The Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requires federal agencies to produce certain documents upon request to the general public unless one of nine exemptions applies. FOIA’s fifth exemption “protects from disclosure documents generated during an agency’s deliberations about a policy, as opposed to documents that embody or explain a policy that the agency adopts.” On March 4, 2021, in United States Fish and Wildlife Service et al. v. Sierra Club, Inc., No. 19-547, the Supreme Court of the United States held that draft biological opinions prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service (“FWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively, the “Services”) fall within this deliberative process privilege exemption. Read More »

On March 1, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio issued a ruling denying in part the summary judgment motion of Defendants Ingersoll-Rand and Trane U.S., against whom Plaintiff FIP Realty Co. brought various claims related to the historic release of VOCs on a site now owned by Plaintiff. See Fip Realty Co. v. Ingersoll-Rand Plc, No. 2:19-cv-03291. After acquiring the site out of receivership in 2010, Plaintiff retained several environmental consulting firms and undertook voluntary remediation efforts pursuant to the Ohio Voluntary Action Program (VAP). Six years later Plaintiff submitted a No Further Action (NFA) letter to the Ohio EPA, which in turn issued a Final Order and Covenant releasing Plaintiff from liability at the site as a result of its successful remediation. In 2019 Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit seeking to recover remediation costs under CERCLA Sections 107(a) and 113(f)(3)(B), and to obtain a declaratory judgment under Section 113(g)(2) that Defendants are liable for all future costs. Defendants moved for summary judgment on various issues, two of which are the subject of disagreement among the federal appellate courts. Read More »

The First Circuit recently affirmed the District of Rhode Island’s approval of a superfund consent decree entered into between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), the State of Rhode Island and several Potentially Responsible Parties despite opposition by third party PRPs that the settlement was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). Emhart Indus., Inc. v. CNA Holdings LLC, No. 19-1563, slip op. (1st Cir. 2021 Feb. 17, 2021). What makes this case unique, and bolstered the arguments of the objectors, is that the settlement incorporated work pursuant to a ROD that the District Court had already determined has not been selected in accordance with law. Nevertheless, both the District Court and the First Circuit held that the finding did not preclude the settlement, leaving the objectors exposed to contribution claims for a remedy potentially inconsistent with the National Contingency Plan (“NCP”). In affirming the lower court, the First Circuit highlighted the “integral part” that early settlement plays in CERCLA’s statutory scheme, thus giving deference to the settling parties. Read More »

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 »