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On Monday, July 29, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that an arbitrator’s decision dismissing a property owner’s claim for coverage under the Spill Compensation Fund was arbitrary and capricious because the decision was procedurally and substantively flawed. US Masters Residential Property (USA) Fund v. N.J. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., __ A.3d __, 2019 WL 3402917 (N.J. 2019) (slip opn.). The Court’s 4-3 opinion suggests that despite the deference afforded arbitrators in these cases, they remain subject to a searching judicial review. Read More »

This Post was authored by Andrew LeDonne, a MGKF summer associate. 

On July 2, 2018, the State of Rhode Island (“RI”) filed suit against twenty-one oil and gas companies in an attempt to hold these organizations liable for climate change impacts RI has and will experience. The defendants (Chevron Corp., et al.) removed the case to federal court. On August 17, 2018, RI filed a motion to remand the case back to state court. On Monday, July 22, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island granted RI’s motion to remand. The remand order was stayed for sixty days for the court to consider whether a further stay pending appeal is warranted. Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp., 2019 WL 3282007 (D.R.I. July 22, 2019). Read More »

On Monday, July 29, 2019, a seven-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, in Pa. Envtl. Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, No. 228 M.D. 2012 (Pa. Cmwlth. Dec. 12, 2018) (“PEDF III”), held that two-thirds of rental payments and up-front bonuses received by the Commonwealth as proceeds from oil and gas leases on state forest and park lands must be reserved for conservation purposes under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also called the Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”). Read More »

This Post was primarily authored by Andrew LeDonne, a MGKF summer associate. 

On July 17, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s interpretation of a release agreement between ASARCO and the Union Pacific Railroad Company (“UP”)  to preclude ASARCO's claim against UP to recover cleanup costs for the Coeur d’Alene superfund site (the "CDA Site"). ASARCO LLC v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 2019 WL 3216615 (9th Cir. July 17, 2019).  This was the second time that the Ninth Circuit had the matter before it, and dispatched it with few words -- but with enough to remind practitioners of the importance of careful wording of settlement and release agreements.  Read More »

On June 21, 2019, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, shaking up Fifth Amendment takings claim jurisprudence. Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, 139 S.Ct. 2162 (2019). In Knick, the Court held that a property owner has an actionable Fifth Amendment takings claim at the moment a state or local government takes her property without paying just compensation, and that violation of the Fifth Amendment can be remedied in federal court via a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The ruling overturned years of precedent that held that a plaintiff could not bring a takings claim in federal court against a state or local government until she had first exhausted her state court remedies. Knick specifically overruled Williamson County, the 1985 case which established the state-litigation requirement. Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). Read More »

Last month, a bare majority of the Supreme Court held in Kisor v. Wilkie, No. 18-15, 588 U.S. ___, that federal courts should still defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations, a practice known as Auer deference, but only sometimes. In doing so, the Supreme Court narrowed the circumstances in which Auer deference is warranted by adopting a new five-part test that must be satisfied for it to apply. The decision has important ramifications for environmental practitioners because of the significance of regulations in environmental law. Read More »

This Post was authored by Andrew LeDonne, a MGKF summer associate. 

On June 11, 2019 the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld a decision by the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (“EHB”) denying the Sierra Club’s application for fees and costs under section 307(b) of the Clean Streams Law. Sierra Club v. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 2019 WL 2426771 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2019).

On September 1, 2016, the EHB consolidated two third-party appeals filed by the Sierra Club to challenge an National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES) permit and a Water Quality Management (“WQM”) permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to Lackawanna Energy Center, LLC (“LEC”). In April 2017, LEC redesigned its powerplant to reduce the amount of industrial wastewater generated by the facility such that the waste could be transported by truck off-site for treatment.  DEP issued a permit modification to LEC because, as a result of the changes to its planned facility, LEC no longer required either the WQM permit or the industrial wastewater discharge portion of its NPDES permit. In light of these changes, all parties moved to dismiss Sierra Club’s appeal. After the EHB dismissed the appeal, Sierra Club petitioned for attorneys’ fees and litigation costs from DEP under section 307(b) of the Clean Steams Law, which the EHB denied after holding an evidentiary hearing on the fee petition. Read More »

Two recent decisions from two different states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, suggest that courts are becoming increasingly skeptical of landowners seeking to capitalize on oil and gas companies utilizing horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to access resources under the property of the landowners. Read More »

In a back and forth battle with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Arizona regarding the scope of judicial power under RCRA, the Ninth Circuit last week reopened three interest groups’ citizen suit claims against the U.S. Forest Service. In Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Forest Serv., No. 17-15790, 2019 WL 2293425 (9th Cir. May 30, 2019), the plaintiffs allege that the use of lead ammunition creates an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment in the Kaibab National Forest, which borders Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. Reversing the district court, the Ninth Circuit held that the controversy is justiciable because it would allow the district court to issue meaningful injunctive relief and not merely an advisory opinion. Read More »

On April 9, 2019, Judge John Z. Lee of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division denied the City of Evanston’s motion for a preliminary injunction against two utility companies in a RCRA action that sought to compel the utility companies to investigate and remediate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contamination in the area.  After a lengthy evidentiary hearing spanning eight days, Judge Lee found that the city had failed to meet its overall burden of proving likelihood of success on the merits, in part because he believed one of the city’s main theories of contamination to be “simplistic.”  (Memorandum Opinion and Order, at *4, City of Evanston v. Northern Illinois Gas Company, No. 16 C 5692 at *19 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 9, 2019)). And on May 16, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a similar decision in Varlen Corporation v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, No. 17-3212 (7th Cir. May 16, 2019), excluding an expert witness and granting summary judgment to the defendant because the expert's testimony regarding the cause of contamination was found to be unreliable, having failed to meet the Daubert standard. Read More »