{ Banner Image }
Search this blog

Subscribe for updates

Recent Posts

Blog editor

Blog Contributors

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 »

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 »