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Showing 26 posts in Citizen Suit.

This Blog Post was authored by Omar Khodor, a summer associate.

On June 23, 2021, the Ninth Circuit, in directing the lower court to dismiss a citizen’s suit claim under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), held that the CWA did not abrogate tribal sovereign immunity. Deschutes River All. v. Portland Gen. Elec. Co., No. 18-35867, 2021 WL 2559477 (9th Cir. June 23, 2021). To abrogate a Tribe’s sovereign immunity, the Ninth Circuit explained that a statute must convey “perfect confidence” that Congress intended to abrogate tribal sovereign immunity. Id. at 14. It further found that the CWA does not unequivocally do so because Section 1365 – a section explicitly dealing with United States and governmental sovereign immunity – does not mention tribal sovereign immunity. Id. at 15-16. Rather, Section 1365 states that “any citizen may commence a civil action on his own behalf . . . against any person (including (i) the United States, and (ii) any other governmental instrumentality or agency to the extent permitted by the eleventh amendment to the Constitution).” 33 U.S.C. § 1365. Although Section 1362(5) of the CWA goes on to define “any person” as a municipality (among other things), and Section 1362(4) further defines a “municipality” as including an “Indian Tribe or an authorized Indian Tribal organization,” the court determined that Congress had not clearly intended to abrogate tribal sovereign immunity because Tribes are not included in Section 1365. Deschutes River All., 2021 WL 2559477 at *15-16. Read More »

This Blog Post was authored by Timothy Johnson, a summer associate.

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania concluded that the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) erred in its dismissal of the petitioners’ appeal of the approval of a compressor station plan by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Cole v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Env't Prot., No. 1577 C.D. 2019, 2021 WL 2420667 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2021). In doing so, the Court held that Section 717r(d)(1) of the federal Natural Gas Act, which provides that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over “civil actions” for review of an approval or denial of a permit or approval required by federal law, does not preclude state administrative agency review of state permitting decisions. Accordingly, the EHB’s review of the matter was not preempted. 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 »

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. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan refused to void a private settlement agreement entered between Sierra Club and DTE in the face of an objection by the United States that the settlement agreement interfered with a related consent decree and infringed on the government’s enforcement authority. United States v. DTE Energy Co., et al., No. 10-CV-13101 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 3, 2020). Read More »

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 »