Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The case involves StarLink Logistics, Inc. ("StarLink") and ACC, LLC ("ACC"). StarLink owns land adjacent to and downstream from ACC's land, where ACC used to operate a landfill for byproducts of aluminum recycling. StarLink alleged that ACC's improperly closed landfill was polluting StarLink’s land. After StarLink initiated its suit, ACC and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (“Department”) finalized a consent order requiring ACC to abate the landfill’s pollution. The district court dismissed StarLink’s claims for lack of jurisdiction and granted summary judgment to ACC as to its remaining claims.The district court dismissed StarLink’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief as moot and granted summary judgment to ACC as to StarLink’s claims for civil penalties. The court also dismissed StarLink’s claims for failure to meet the Clean Water Act’s and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s jurisdictional notice requirements.The United States Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment. The court held that StarLink can proceed with Count 2 and to seek remediation of its property for Count 5 of its complaint. As to Counts 1, 3, and 4, the court agreed with the district court’s claim preclusion and notice rulings. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. View "StarLink Logistics, Inc. v. ACC, LLC" on Justia Law

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During World War II, the federal government played a significant role in American oil and gasoline production, often telling refineries what to produce and when to produce it. It also rationed crude oil and refining equipment, prioritized certain types of production, and regulated industry wages and prices. This case involves 12 refinery sites, all owned by Valero, that operated during the war, faced wartime regulations, and managed wartime waste. After the war, inspections revealed environmental contamination at each site. Valero started cleaning up the sites. It then sought contribution from the United States, arguing that the government “operated” each site during World War II. It did not contend that government personnel regularly disposed of waste at any of the sites or handled specific equipment there. Nor did it allege that the United States designed any of the refineries or made engineering decisions on their behalf.The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court. The United States was not a refinery “operator” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. 9601–75. CERCLA liability requires control over activities “specifically related to pollution” rather than control over general pricing and product-related decisions. View "MRP Properties Co., LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Wolverine transports refined petroleum products in its 700-mile pipeline system. These pipelines run from refineries in the Chicago area to terminals and other pipelines in and around Indiana and Michigan. Because Wolverine transports refined petroleum, a hazardous liquid, the company is subject to safety standards, 49 U.S.C. 60101, and falls into the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) regulatory orbit. A few years ago, PHMSA conducted a routine inspection of Wolverine’s records, procedures, and facilities and identified several issues. PHMSA sent Wolverine a Notice of Probable Violation, which acts as an informal charging document, and described nine potential violations of PHMSA’s regulations, including a dent with metal loss on the topside of a pipe segment, with respect to which Wolverine did not meet an “immediate repair” requirement. Wolverine missed a 180-day repair requirement for other deficiencies.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a $65,800 civil penalty. The court rejected Wolverine’s arguments that PHMSA’s action was arbitrary and violated its due process rights. Wolverine had adequate notice and, to the extent Wolverine believes another approach would better achieve PHMSA’s desired policy outcomes, its argument is one for resolution by PHMSA. View "Wolverine Pipe Line Co. v. United States Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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After extensive litigation, the United States, Michigan, and five federally recognized tribes entered the Great Lakes Consent Decree of 1985, governing the regulation of Great Lakes fisheries. The subsequent Consent Decree of 2000 had a 20-year term. The district court extended that Decree indefinitely “until all objections to a proposed successor decree have been adjudicated” and granted amicus status to the Coalition, which represents numerous private “sport fishing, boating, and conservancy groups” interested in protecting the Great Lakes. The Coalition has represented its own interests during negotiation sessions.As the parties were concluding their negotiations on a new decree the Coalition moved to intervene, stating that Michigan is no longer “willing or able to adequately represent the Coalition’s interests” and intends to abandon key provisions of the 2000 Decree that promote biological conservation and diversity, allocate fishery resources between sovereigns, and establish commercial and recreational fishing zones. The district court denied the Coalition’s most recent motion to intervene. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In finding the motion untimely, the district court properly considered “all relevant circumstances” including the stage of the proceedings; the purpose for the intervention; the length of time that the movant knew or should have known of its interest in the case; the prejudice to the original parties; and any unusual circumstances militating for or against intervention. View "United States v. State of Michigan" on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to establish national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for certain pollutants. To achieve, maintain, and enforce those standards, every state develops a State Implementation Plan (SIP), which the EPA reviews and, after public notice and comment, approves or disapproves. Upon approval, a SIP—and all the state regulations it includes—becomes enforceable in federal court. If the EPA determines that its prior approval of a SIP was in error, the EPA can revise the plan using the Clean Air Act’s error-correction provision, 42 U.S.C. 7410(k)(6). For almost 50 years, Ohio’s SIP included an air nuisance rule (ANR) that made unlawful the emission of various substances in a manner or amount that endangered public health, safety, or welfare, or caused unreasonable injury or damage to property. In 2020, the EPA proposed removing the ANR from Ohio’s SIP using the Act’s error-correction provision.After public comment, the EPA finalized the removal of the ANR from Ohio’s SIP on the grounds that the state had not relied on the rule to implement, maintain, or enforce any NAAQS. Objectors argued that the EPA improperly invoked section 7410(k)(6) and acted arbitrarily. The Sixth Circuit remanded without vacatur. The objectors established that vacatur of the EPA’s decision is sufficiently likely to redress injuries to their asserted physical, recreational, and aesthetic interests, and have established standing; they also established standing based on their asserted procedural injury. View "Sierra Club v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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In the 1950s, DuPont began discharging C-8—a “forever” chemical that accumulates in the human body and the environment—into the Ohio River, landfills, and the air surrounding its West Virginia plant. By the 1960s, DuPont learned that C-8 is toxic to animals and, by the 1980s, that it is potentially a human carcinogen. DuPont’s discharges increased until 2000. Evidence subsequently confirmed that C-8 caused several diseases among those drinking the contaminated water. In a class action lawsuit, DuPont promised to treat the affected water and to fund a scientific process concerning the impact of C-8 exposure. A panel of scientists conducted an approximately seven-year epidemiological study of the blood samples and medical records of more than 69,000 affected community members, while the litigation was paused. The settlement limited the claims that could be brought against DuPont based on the study’s determination of which diseases prevalent in the communities were likely linked to C-8 exposure. The resulting cases were consolidated in multidistrict litigation. After two bellwether trials and a post-bellwether trial reached verdicts against DuPont, the parties settled the remaining cases.More class members filed suit when they became sick or discovered the connection between their diseases and C-8. In this case, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the application of collateral estoppel to specific issues that were unanimously resolved in the three prior jury trials, the exclusion of certain evidence based on the initial settlement agreement, and rejection of DuPont’s statute-of-limitations defense.. View "Abbott v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law

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TVA's “15-foot rule” provided that TVA would remove all trees from rights-of-way if the trees had the potential to grow over 15 feet tall, even if the trees did not pose a threat to power lines. Owners claimed that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required the TVA to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the rule because it was a new major federal action. Following two remands, TVA conceded that the rule violated NEPA and asserted that it had published a notice in the Federal Register to inform the public that it would prepare a programmatic EIS to evaluate the 15-foot rule. The court issued an injunction but stated that the plaintiffs would need to file a separate lawsuit to challenge the sufficiency of the EIS. TVA later successfully moved to dissolve the injunction, claiming that it had held a statutory public comment period and issued a final programmatic EIS, rejecting the 15-foot rule and adopting “Alternative C: Condition-Based Control Strategy.”The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court has not yet determined, in light of the administrative record, whether TVA took a hard look at the environmental consequences of its action, and TVA’s action has not been shown to be so different from the 15-foot rule as to warrant a whole new suit to obtain judicial review. View "Sherwood v. Tennessee Valley Authority" on Justia Law

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TVA, wholly owned by the U.S. government, 16 U.S.C. 831, operates Tennessee's Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant. A containment dike that retained coal-ash sludge failed in 2008, causing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge to spill to adjacent property. TVA and the EPA responded under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. TVA, as the lead agency, engaged Jacobs as its “prime contractor providing project planning, management, and oversight,” including evaluating potential hazards to human health and safety. Jacobs submitted a Safety and Health Plan. More than 60 of Jacobs’s former employees sued, claiming that they were exposed to coal ash and particulate “fly ash” during this cleanup. The suits were consolidated.The district court denied Jacobs’s motions seeking derivative discretionary-function immunity, reasoning that Jacobs would be entitled to immunity only if it adhered to its contract and there were genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Jacobs acted within the scope of its authority. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs but did not designate any particular theory, as listed in the jury instructions, for which Jacobs could be held liable, broadly finding that Jacobs “failed to adhere to the terms of its contract," or the Plan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Jacobs is immune from suit only if TVA is immune; TVA would not have been immune from suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims raise either “inconsistency” or “grave-interference” concerns. View "Greg Adkisson v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc" on Justia Law

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Michigan's Kalamazoo River was contaminated by papermills for decades, including by the release of PCBs. In 1990 the EPA added the River to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites; three paper companies formed KRSG, which entered an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC), agreeing to perform a remedial investigation. KRSG sought a declaratory judgment under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) against several firms (not including IP) that the defendants were liable for “any response costs that may be incurred" in the future "in connection with the Site.” In 1998, the district court found KRSG's members and defendants Rockwell and Eaton liable for the contamination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in 2001.In 2010, GP sued NCR, IP, and Weyerhaeuser, alleging that NCR arranged the disposal of PCB-containing substances in the area and that Weyerhaeuser was an owner. IP argued that it was not liable because it owned papermill property only as a secured creditor. The defendants argued that GP’s claims were time-barred under CERCLA’s three-year limitations period for contribution and identified several events in the prior litigation that may have caused the limitations period to begin running. The district court found that the claims concerning 2006–07 Administrative Settlement Agreements and Orders on Consent and one sub-claim from the 1990 AOC were time-barred, but that the remaining claims were not.The Sixth Circuit reversed. When the district court entered the 1998 declaratory judgment in the KRSG litigation, CERCLA’s statute of limitations for contribution claims began running. View "Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products, LP. v. NCR Corp." on Justia Law

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The Army Corps of Engineers designed a stormwater diversion system for Pond Creek, which drains into a large watershed in the Louisville area. It included Pond Creek’s tributary, Fishpool Creek, and a nearby basin, Vulcan Quarry. The Corps suggested connecting the two through a spillway. The Corps partnered with Metro Sewer District (MSD). MSD filed an eminent domain action. The court awarded MSD only an easement over the quarry and refused to impose water treatment obligations on the easement. MSD’s stream construction permit from the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet did not require treatment of the water or cleaning up any pollutants.In 2000, the project was completed. South Side bought Vulcan Quarry in 2012 and claimed that MSD had exceeded its easement by diverting all of Fishpool Creek. In 2018, South Side sent MSD notice of its intent to sue for violations of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) “prohibition on the dumping of pollutants into U.S. waters,” the easement, and Kentucky-issued permits. The district court dismissed certain claims as time-barred and others because the notice failed to identify sewage as a pollutant, provide dates the pollution took place, and describe the source of the pollution.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. MSD did not need a CWA discharge permit when it built the spillway and does not need one now. The waters of Fishpool Creek and Vulcan Quarry are not meaningfully distinct; the spillway is the kind of water transfer that is exempt from the permitting process. View "South Side Quarry, LLC v. Louisville & Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District" on Justia Law