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Showing 14 posts in Citizen Suit.

Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held in two separate cases that the Clean Water Act does not extend liability to pollution that reaches navigable waters via groundwater. Kentucky Waterways All. v. Kentucky Utilities Co., No. 18-5115, 2018 WL 4559315, (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018); Tennessee Clean Water Network v. Tennessee Valley Auth., No. 17-6155, 2018 WL 4559103 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018). Instead, the court adopted the bright line rule that for a point source discharge to be actionable under the CWA, it must “dump directly into” navigable waters. The decisions departed from the Fourth and Ninth Circuits’ rulings earlier this year, which held that a “direct hydrological connection” between a discharge and waterbody was sufficient for CWA liability. Our prior blog post on the Fourth Circuit’s decision, Upstate Forever et al. v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP et al., No. 17-1640, 2018 WL 1748154 (4th Cir. April 12, 2018) can be found here. Read More »

On April 24, 2018, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board issued a decision denying a Petition for Supersedeas filed by Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club which had sought to enjoin Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company, LLC (“Consol”) from mining under a stream called Polen Run located in Ryerson Station State Park See Center for Coalfield Justice v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2018-028-R (Opinion issued Apr. 24, 2018) (“CCJ III”). The Board’s opinion reinforces the Board’s prior decisions applying Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (“Environmental Rights Amendment” or “ERA”) in the context of a permitting decision in light of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Pa. Environmental Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF”).  Read More »

Last Thursday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that environmental groups could bring a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) against the owner of a ruptured gasoline pipeline where the pipeline had been repaired but the spilled gasoline allegedly continued to travel through groundwater and into nearby surface waters regulated by the CWA as “navigable waters.” Upstate Forever et al. v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP et al., No. 17-1640, 2018 WL 1748154 (4th Cir. April 12, 2018). In doing so, the Court weighed in on an issue that was of first impression to the Fourth Circuit and has significant implications for CWA liability – whether the discharge of a pollutant that moves through ground water before reaching navigable waters may constitute a discharge of a pollutant pursuant to the CWA. The Court also resolved the preliminary jurisdictional issue by finding that the plaintiffs had adequately alleged an “ongoing violation” as necessary to allege a CWA violation in the district court.   Read More »

Under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), it is well established that any entity discharging pollutants into the surface waters of the United States from a “point source” must obtain a permit. But courts have disagreed on whether the CWA also encompasses groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water.  Last week, a federal district court in Virginia followed a line of cases in holding that the CWA does cover the discharge of pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water. Sierra Club v. Va. Elec. & Power Co., Civil Action No. 2:15-CV-112 (E.D. Va. Mar. 23, 2017). Read More »

Last week, a federal district court in Alabama rejected motions to dismiss a RCRA declaratory judgment and injunctive relief action filed by an environmental interest group against a group of defendants including an Alabama manufacturer that formerly used and disposed of materials containing perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (“PFOS”). Tennessee Riverkeeper, Inc. v. 3M Co. et al., No. 16-1029-AKK (Feb. 10, 2017 N.D. Ala.).  This decision follows a chain of increasing regulatory and private scrutiny of PFOA and PFOS.  In May 2016, EPA released more stringent drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, and firms that use, used, or disposed of one or both of the chemicals are frequently becoming the targets of regulatory and private enforcement efforts like this one. Read More »

The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) generally forbids discharging contaminated effluent into waters of the United States unless the discharger holds a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit. Once a discharger holds a permit, they are shielded from discharge related liability- unless, as the Fourth Circuit observed in the recent case of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Company, LLC, No. 161024 (4th Cir., 1/04/2017), the permit holder is noncompliant. Read More »

A U.S. District Court recently considered two questions in response to a citizen suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) requesting injunctive relief while an ongoing state-court proceeding over the remediation was already ongoing: (1) whether the Court could enter injunctive relief even though the state-proceeding was ongoing; and (2) whether the Court should enter injunctive relief in light of the state-proceeding.  In the case, LAJIM, LLC, et al. v. General Electric Co., No. 13 CV 50348 (N.D. Ill. October 4, 2016), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois first held that RCRA “plainly authorizes” injunctive relief in citizen suits, even when a state proceeding is ongoing.  But the Court found that it needed additional facts to determine whether the injunctive relief was appropriate in the case before it, and established an action plan to make such a finding.     Read More »

Last week, a federal court in the Central District of Illinois held the owner and operator of a coal-fired power plant liable for violations of the Clean Air Act for exceeding particulate matter emission thresholds in the plant’s state operating permit.  NRDC v. Ill. Power Res., LLC, No. 13-cv-1181, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111976 (C.D. Ill. Aug. 23, 2016).  The court found that the plaintiffs—three environmental advocacy organizations who filed suit under the citizen suit provision of the CAA—had standing to sue the plant because certain of their individual members suffered injury-in-fact where emitted pollutants that “could cause harm” were present in the witnesses’ general geographic area and the witnesses’ pleasure was somehow diminished by the presence of the pollutants, even where the witnesses could not point to an objective effect of the alleged violation. Read More »

Earlier this month, a Michigan federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a coalition of plaintiffs seeking to force multiple city and state defendants to fix the city of Flint, Michigan’s water supply system.  The lawsuit arose from the crisis regarding lead contamination in Flint’s water supply, which has garnered national attention.  In the decision, Concerned Pastors for Soc. Action v. Khouri, No. 16-10277 (E.D. Mich. July 7, 2016), U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson rejected numerous attacks asserted by the defendants in a motion to dismiss.  Perhaps most notably, the judge rejected the argument that the federal court should defer to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) primary jurisdiction under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).    Read More »

Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a Sierra Club citizen suit against a coal-fired power plant for an alleged permitting violation of the Clean Air Act, finding that the Sierra Club’s claims were time-barred.  In the case, Sierra Club v. Okla. Gas & Elec. Co., No. 14-7065 (10th Cir. March 8, 2016), the court held that the Sierra Club’s claims for civil penalties were statutorily time-barred because they were brought more than five years after the power plant began its unpermitted modification of a boiler, an action which the Sierra Club claims violated the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program under the Clean Air Act.  The court also affirmed dismissal of the group’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief because those legal claims were predicated on the same facts as the time-barred civil penalties.  The court’s interpretation of the statute of limitations as applied to the PSD program is consistent with a 2011 district court decision in the 3rd Circuit, United States v. EME Homer City Generation L.P., et al., which we reported on here. Read More »