Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
State of DE v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs
The federal government has maintained navigation in the Delaware River for more than 100 years. In 1992, the Army Corps of Engineers published an Environmental Impact Statement, recommending deepening of five feet along 102-miles. The EIS identified potential adverse impacts, but concluded these would be minimal and were outweighed by benefits of reduced shipping costs. In 1997, after engineering, the Corps published a Supplemental EIS. The project stalled until 2008, when the Philadelphia River Port Authority agreed to share costs. Improved technology reduced the amount of sediment; wetlands restoration was deferred. An oil spill had increased sediment toxicity. Expected expansion of sturgeon, potentially increased blasting risks. A 2009 Environmental Assessment recommended the project proceed. The district court rejected state challenges under the Coastal Zone Management Act, which requires a “consistency determination” for any state whose coastal zone will be affected, 16 U.S.C. 1456(c)(1); the Clean Water Act, which requires compliance with state water pollution law, 33 U.S.C. 1323(a); and the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321. The states had attempted to revoke CZMA clearances. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that dredging has begun. The 2009 EA was not arbitrary. CWA’s “congressionally authorized” exception to state approvals applies. The Corps reasonably concluded that it need not provide supplemental CZMA consistency determinations to states. View "State of DE v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs" on Justia Law
Commonwealth of PA Dep’ of Envtl. Prot. v. Lockheed Martin Corp.
In 1957 the Commonwealth constructed the Quehanna Wild Area Nuclear Site. Part of the site was donated to Pennsylvania State University. Until 1967 Penn State leased to a Lockheed predecessor, conducting work under Atomic Energy Commission contracts, involving Strontium-90, a radioactive isotope. The predecessor partially decontaminated. According to Lockheed, the Commonwealth was aware that Strontium-90 remained and could not be removed without dismantling the facility. In the 1990s, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to decommission the facility. This cost more than $20 million. PADEP sued Lockheed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a). Lockheed defended that the Commonwealth should recover less than its demand based on its own conduct and liability and the doctrines of unclean hands, estoppel, waiver, and laches. Lockheed also alleged that PADEP was liable under CERCLA as an owner-operator and as having arranged for or transported hazardous substances. The district court dismissed Lockheed’s third-party complaint, concluding that the Commonwealth and DCNR retained Eleventh Amendment immunity when PADEP filed a federal suit. The Third Circuit vacated with instructions to dismiss the third party complaint as moot, based on the sufficiency of Lockheed’s affirmative defenses. View "Commonwealth of PA Dep' of Envtl. Prot. v. Lockheed Martin Corp." on Justia Law
United States v. Donovan
The four-acre parcel is within the watershed of the Sawmill, which flows into the Smyrna River, then into the Delaware Estuary and to Delaware Bay. The Sawmill becomes tidal 2.5 miles from the property. In 1987, the Army Corps of Engineers categorized the site as wetlands, concluded that ¾ of an acre had been filled, and warned the owner that a permit was required to fill more than one acre. In 1993, the Corps found that he had continued to fill without a permit and ordered removal of 0.771 acres of fill or submission of a pre-discharge notification. In 1996, the government sued, under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1311(a). In 2006, the court entered judgment, imposing a $250,000 fine and requiring removal of 0.771 acres of fill. The Third Circuit remanded, in light of the 2006 Supreme Court decision, Rapanos v. U.S. On remand, the government presented expert evidence; the owner submitted an affidavit based on personal knowledge. The court granted the government summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the Corps has jurisdiction only over wetlands adjacent to navigable-in-fact waters. There is no genuine issue of Corps' jurisdiction; nothing in the affidavit addressed the effect on the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters.
Raritan Baykeeper v. NL Indus., Inc.
From the 1930s until 1982, NL manufactured pigments on 440 acres surrounded by the Raritan River. NL later leased to manufacturers of sulfuric acid, until 2005, when a redevelopment agency acquired the site by eminent domain. NL had entered into an administrative consent order with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, requiring NL to investigate and perform remediation. The state had identified other sources of contamination and suggested a regional approach, but no action was taken. The redevelopment agreement provided that NL would retain liability for contamination of river sediments, but does not call for any remediation. In 2009, the U.S. EPA ordered remediation of river sediments upstream from the site. Shortly thereafter, plaintiffs filed citizens suits under RCRA, 42 U.S.C. 6972(a)(1)(B), and CWA, 33 U.S.C. 1365(a)(1). The district court dismissed, concluding that abstention was appropriate. The Third Circuit vacated, noting that the state has not taken action with respect to the contamination.
Minard Run Oil Co. v. U.S. Forest Serv.
The Forest Service manages the surface of the Allegheny National Forest, but most mineral rights are privately owned. From 1980 until recently the Service cooperated with owners to manage drilling; owners would provide advance notice and the Service would issue a Notice to Proceed. As a result of a settlement with environmental groups, the Service changed its policy and postponed issuance of NTPs until a multi-year, Environmental Impact Study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4332(C)) is complete. The district court issued a preliminary injunction against the Service, requiring it to return to its prior process. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Service does not have the broad authority it claims over private mineral rights owners' access to surface lands. Its special use regulations do not apply to outstanding rights; the limited regulatory scheme applicable to most reserved rights in the ANF does not impose a permit requirement. Although the Service is entitled to notice, and may request and negotiate accommodation of its state-law right to due regard, its approval is not required for surface access. The moratorium causes irreparable injury to owners by depriving them of unique oil and gas extraction opportunities.
Gates v. Rohm & Haas Co.
Named plaintiffs are residents of a residential area of about 2000 people. Defendants, chemical companies, operated a facility one mile north of the area. Plaintiffs allege that defendants dumped wastewater into a lagoon that seeped into an aquifer where it degraded into vinyl chloride, a carcinogen. The district court denied certification of a class seeking medical monitoring for village residents exposed to airborne vinyl chloride between 1968 and 2002, and a liability-only issue class seeking compensation for property damage from the exposure. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in finding plaintiffs would be unable to prove a concentration of vinyl chloride that would create a significant risk of contracting a serious latent disease for all class members. A single injunction or declaratory judgment could not provide relief to each member of the class, due to individual issues unrelated to the monetary nature of the claim. Each person's work, travel, and recreational habits may have affected their level of exposure. Certification of a liability-only issue class could unfairly impact defendants and absent class members.
In Re: Application of Chevron
After first filing claims in a U.S. district court, inhabitants of eastern Ecuador filed suit in their country, alleging that the company contaminated the area and caused residents' health problems. The company, attempting to establish fraud and collusion in the proceedings, sought discovery from the plaintiffs' attorney for use in that litigation, in criminal proceedings in Ecuador, and in arbitration initiated against the Republic of Ecuador with the United Nations. The district court granted discovery under 28 U.S.C. 1782, which provides that the court of the district in which a person is found may order him to give testimony or to produce a document or thing for use in a proceeding in a foreign tribunal, unless the disclosure would violate a legal privilege. The court concluded that attorney-client privilege had been waived because documentary film-makers had been allowed intimate access to proceedings involving the environmental litigation. The Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the public disclosure of certain communications did not lead to "subject matter waiver" of attorney-client privilege for communications that were covered by the privilege. The court remanded for consideration of whether certain communications are discoverable pursuant to the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege.
NJ Envtl Fed’n v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n,
Oyster Creek in Ocean County, New Jersey was licensed under the Atomic Energy Act, 42 U.S.C. 2133(c) in 1969 for a 40-year term and is the oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant in the country. Objectors claimed that the application for license renewal was deficient with respect to detection of corrosion in a safety structure. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected the claims; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted the license. After examining the objectors' specific technical claims, the Third Circuit denied review. The Board and the NRC provided hundreds of pages detailing their decision-making and gave due consideration to objectors' concerns; the review was well-reasoned and within the realm of the agency's unique expertise.