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Showing 21 posts in Citizen Suit.

Today, the Supreme Court altered Clean Water Act jurisprudence when it vacated and remanded a closely-watched Ninth Circuit decision which pertained to the federal government’s authority to oversee of the migration of pollution through groundwater to navigable waters. See County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., No. 18-260, 590 U.S. ____ (Apr. 23, 2020). In writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Breyer presented the central issue of the litigation as “whether the [Clean Water] Act ‘requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source,’ here, ‘groundwater.’” Id. at 1 (internal citations omitted). The Court held that a permit issued under the Clean Water Act is required “if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.” Id. Because the “functional equivalent” standard is slightly amorphous, the Court introduced several factors to aid courts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the regulated community in making permitting determinations. See Breyer Factors, below. Read More »

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), a TMDL establishes the maximum amount of each pollutant that an impaired water segment can receive while still meeting identified water quality standards. After EPA receives a proposed TMDL from the state, it has a non-discretionary duty to either “approve or disapprove” the TMDL. See 33 U.S.C. § 1313(d)(2). If EPA approves the TMDL, it becomes effective. If EPA disapproves the TMDL, it must produce and issue its own TMDL within thirty days. Just before the close of 2019, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court for the Western District of Washington to compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a temperature total maximum daily load (TMDL) for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Columbia Riverkeeper v. Wheeler, No. 18-35982 (9th Cir., Dec. 20, 2019). At issue in the litigation was whether the “constructive submission doctrine” applied when Washington and Oregon failed to submit required temperature TMDLs and whether that failure triggered a non-discretionary duty for EPA to issue the TMDL itself. Read More »

The adage “you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube” has manifested itself in two recent federal court decisions. Under separate theories, both the Second Circuit and the District Court of the District of Columbia have issued decisions that highlight the difficulty environmental groups faced in challenging energy infrastructure projects that have been completed during the course of litigation. 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 »

In an opinion and order released last week, the MDL court in In re Gold King Mine Release denied response contractors’ motions to dismiss. No. 1:18-md-02824-WJ, 2019 WL 1282997 (D. N.M. March 20, 2019) (slip opn.). The 2015 Gold King Mine release sent over three million gallons of contaminated wastewater into rivers in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. In the wake of the spill, the State of New Mexico, the State of Utah, the Navajo Nation, and multiple individual plaintiffs filed suit against the mine’s owner, the federal government, EPA, and EPA response contractors, Weston Solutions, Inc. and Environmental Restoration, LLCC (the “Response Contractors”). The court’s opinion, which allows the majority of plaintiffs’ CERCLA and tort claims to move forward, comes on the heels of a similar order denying the Federal Government’s motions to dismiss. See In re Gold King Mine Release, No. 1:18-md-02824-WJ, 2019 WL 999016 (D. N.M. Feb. 28, 2019) (slip opn.). Our blog post discussing that earlier opinion and order can be found here.    Read More »

In an opinion and order released last week, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico denied the federal government’s motions to dismiss claims relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine wastewater spill. In re Gold King Mine Release, No. 1:18-md-02824-WJ, 2019 WL 999016 (D. N.M. Feb. 28, 2019) (slip opn.). The district court was not convinced by the government’s argument that it was entitled to sovereign immunity and that the plaintiffs’ complaints were inadequate. It denied the motions and allowed all but one of the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed to discovery. Read More »

Last month in the case Puget Soundkeeper Alliance v. APM Terminals Tacoma, LLC, et al., No. C17-5016 BHS (W.D. Wa. Jan. 31, 2019), the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington dismissed Plaintiff Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s (“Soundkeeper”) Clean Water Act citizen suit against SSA Terminals, LLC (“SSA”) for failing to satisfy the CWA’s pre-suit notice requirements. The case addressed the novel question of whether the Soundkeeper’s “anticipatory” pre-suit notice letter to SSA, who was served with the letter before it had even taken over operations at the property in question, satisfied the CWA’s 60-day pre-suit notice requirement. The court rejected Soundkeeper’s novel theory and dismissed the CWA claim against SSA. Read More »

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 »