Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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The Baptistes filed suit on behalf of a class of homeowner-occupants and renters (about 8,400 households) claiming interference with the use and enjoyment of their homes and loss in property value caused by noxious odors and other air contaminants emanating from the 224-acre Bethlehem Landfill. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. While everyone in the community—including visitors, commuters, and residents—may suffer from having to breathe polluted air in public spaces, the Baptistes have identified cumulative harms that are unique to residents, such as the inability to use and enjoy their outdoor spaces. These injuries are above and beyond any injury to the public; the Baptistes sufficiently alleged a “particular damage” to sustain a private claim for public nuisance. They also stated a claim for private nuisance. Pennsylvania law does not reject a private nuisance claim on the ground that the property affected was too far from the source of the alleged nuisance. Nor does Pennsylvania law condition an individual’s right to recover private property damages on a nuisance theory on the size of the nuisance or the number of persons harmed, as opposed to the nature of the rights affected or the degree of the harm suffered. The question remains whether the Baptistes have sufficiently pleaded a cognizable injury to state an independent negligence claim. View "Baptiste v. Bethlehem Landfill Co." on Justia Law

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Wayne challenged the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC)’s authority to regulate its proposed fracking activities. Riverkeeper, an environmental group, was permitted to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. Three Pennsylvania State Senators also sought to intervene, on the side of Wayne, in their official capacities. The Senators asserted that the “DRBC is nullifying the General Assembly’s lawmaking power by effectively countermanding the directives of duly enacted laws that permit” fracking-related activities. They did not specify the relief they sought. Riverkeeper contended that the Senators lacked standing to intervene. The district court denied the Senators’ motion without discussing standing, holding that the Senators had failed to establish the conditions necessary for Rule 24(a) intervention of right. The court later granted DRBC’s motion to dismiss. On remand from the Third Circuit, the Senators again sought to intervene, requesting that the court “invalidate the de facto moratorium and enjoin its further enforcement,” as exceeding the DRBC’s scope of authority, or, alternatively, that the DRBC “provide just compensation." The district court denied the motion because the Senators had not shown a “significantly protectable interest in th[e] litigation.” The Third Circuit vacated and remanded, reasoning that the Senators appear to be seeking relief different from that sought by the plaintiff. The district court erred in ruling on the merits of the Rule 24 motion before considering whether the Senators need to establish Article III standing for either of their proposed claims. View "Wayne Land and Mineral Group LLC v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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Beginning around 1915, NPRC operated a Jersey City chemical plant, turning chromite ore into chromium chemicals for dyeing cloth and tanning leather. The process generated hazardous chemical waste that eventually seeped into the soil and groundwater. During both World Wars, the production of chromium chemicals was regulated. During World War II, the government designated chromium chemicals as “critical” war materials and implemented controls concerning labor conditions, supplies, subsidies, and pricing. In 1944, the Chemicals Bureau officially recommended that producers switch to a quicker, more wasteful process. Government orders did not direct how the ores were to be processed, how the chemicals were to be made, or how waste should be handled. PPG purchased the site in 1954 and processed chromium chemicals there until 1963, using essentially the same processes as NPRC, including stockpiling the waste outdoors. PPG has spent $367 million to remediate the site and other contaminated areas. PPG sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607, seeking recovery and contribution for costs associated with cleanup. After four years of discovery, the district court granted the government summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. Governmental involvement with the plant during the wars did not make it an “operator” liable for the cleanup costs associated with the waste. Governmental actions in relation to the plant were consistent with general wartime influence over the industry and did not extend to control over pollution-related activities. View "PPG Industries Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Cranbury Development bought a long-abandoned weapons-manufacturing facility that the U.S. military and others contaminated. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) ordered the parties responsible for the contamination (Cranbury, Maxxam, and the U.S. Navy) to memorialize their commitment to perform remediation. The Navy refused to take part. In 2005, Cranbury and Maxxam entered into a Consent Order with NJDEP, agreeing to clean up the site; NJDEP agreed not to sue them if they complied. That settlement let Cranbury and Maxxam seek contribution 10 from other polluters (like the Navy) while immunizing them from such claims. In 2006, Brick Yard bought the site, planning to redevelop it into commercial warehouses, and sought to assume Cranbury Development’s cleanup obligations. Brick Yard agreed to join the existing agreement, substituting for Cranbury Development. During the cleanup, problems arose. Brick Yard claims to have spent $50 million in the process. In 2015, Brick Yard sued the federal government, seeking cost recovery and contribution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a), 9613(f)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of the claims. The settlement with the state gave Brick Yard immunity from contribution claims, which extinguished its cost-recovery claim. The contribution claim against the federal government is untimely because Brick Yard sued nine years after joining the settlement. View "Cranbury Brick Yard, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2007, the Site, in Trainer Borough, was owned by SCT, and used for making corrosion inhibitors, fuel additives, and oil additives. SCT kept flammable, corrosive, and combustible chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) determined that “there is a release or threat of release of hazardous substances or contaminants, which presents a substantial danger to human health or the environment. The federal EPA initiated removal actions. SCT could not afford the cleanup expenses, including electricity to power pollution control and security equipment, The power company was going to shut off the Site's electricity, so PADEP assumed responsibility for the bills. Delaware County forced a tax sale. Buyers purchased the Site for $20,000; the purchase agreement stated that the Site had ongoing environmental issues and remediation. Trainer Custom Chemical took title in October 2012. The EPA and PADEP completed their removal actions in December 2012. PADEP had incurred more than $818,000 in costs. The buyers had demolished many of the Site’s structures; reclaimed salvageable materials were sold for $875,000. In 2014, PADEP received reports indicating that hazards still existed at the Site; its buildings had asbestos-containing materials. PADEP sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-28, and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), to recover cleanup costs. The Third Circuit held that the Buyer is liable for environmental cleanup costs incurred at the Site both before and after the Buyer acquired it. View "Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC" on Justia Law

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From 1910 until 1986, Greenlease Holding Co. (“Greenlease”), a subsidiary of the Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation (“Ampco”), owned a contaminated manufacturing site in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Trinity Industries, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Trinity Industries Railcar Co. (collectively, “Trinity”), acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. An investigation by Pennsylvania into Trinity’s waste disposal activities resulted in a criminal prosecution and eventual plea-bargained consent decree which required, in relevant part, that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. This appeal arose out of the district court’s determination that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”), Trinity was entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. The parties filed cross-appeals challenging a number of the district court’s rulings, including its ultimate allocation of cleanup costs. The Third Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court on several pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions, vacated the cost allocation determination and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co." on Justia Law

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The families live close to the Willow Grove Naval Air and Air Reserve Station in Horsham Township and the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster Township, which are contaminated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), including perfluorooctanoic acid. The families filed suits under the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. 6020.101-.1305, seeking orders requiring the Navy to pay for medical monitoring and to conduct a health assessment or health effects study that would include blood testing for themselves and others exposed to the hazardous substances released at the contaminated facilities. The district court concluded that the claims fell within the ambit of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601- 9675, and were challenges under that Act to ongoing cleanup efforts at the facilities. The court decided that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the cases. The Third Circuit affirmed in part; the claim for a health assessment or health effects study is barred because it challenges ongoing cleanup efforts. The court vacated in part, finding that the medical monitoring claim is not a challenge under CERCLA and is not barred by sovereign immunity. View "Giovanni v. United States Department of Navy" on Justia Law

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From 1910-1986, Greenlease owned the Greenville Pennsylvania site and operated railcar manufacturing facilities there. Trinity acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. A state investigation of Trinity’s waste-disposal activities resulted in criminal prosecution and, eventually, a plea-bargained consent decree, requiring that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. The district court held that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601 (CERCLA), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, Trinity is entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. After eight years of litigation, and having sorted through a century of historical records, the court allocated 62% of the total cleanup costs to Greenlease and the remainder to Trinity. The Third Circuit affirmed pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions but vacated the cost allocation determination. The agreement between Trinity and Greenlease did not shift liability away from Greenlease after a three-year contractual indemnification period expired. Trinity’s response costs were necessary and reasonable. The court’s methodology, however, failed to differentiate between different remediation activities and their varied costs, and, as applied, treated data measured in square feet as equivalent to data measured in cubic yards. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought to prevent the expansion of Transco’s interstate natural gas pipeline facilities, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) violated the Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717–717z and environmental protection statutes, by arbitrarily approving Transco’s proposed project. Petitioners also argued that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) violated state law by improperly issuing permits required under federal law before commencement of construction activities and by denying the petitioners’ request for an adjudicatory hearing to challenge the permits, based only on the NJDEP’s allegedly incorrect belief that the New Jersey regulations establishing the availability of such hearings were preempted by federal law. The Third Circuit concluded that the challenges to FERC’s orders lacked merit because no discharge-creating activity can commence without New Jersey independently awarding Transco with a Section 401 permit; no activities that may result in a discharge can follow as a logical result of just FERC’s issuance of the certificate. FERC adequately addressed the need for the project and its cumulative impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The court remanded to NJDEP. NJDEP misunderstood the scope of the NGA’s assignment of jurisdiction to the federal Courts of Appeals, rendering unreasonable the sole basis for its denial of the petitioners’ request for a hearing--preemption. View "Township of Bordentown v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA) requires a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A), for construction or operation of a natural gas pipeline, which requires compliance with other legal mandates. Transco sought a Certificate for expansion of its natural-gas distribution network, then received Water Quality Certification under the Clean Water Act, (CWA) 33 U.S.C. 1341(a)(1) from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), subject to conditions requiring a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, for discharges of water during hydrostatic pipeline testing, and state permits, covering erosion and sediment disturbance and obstructions and encroachments on Pennsylvania waters. Transco challenged the conditions in the Third Circuit under the NGA and before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board. The Third Circuit concluded that it has jurisdiction; NGA provides “original and exclusive jurisdiction" to review a state agency’s “action” taken “pursuant to Federal law to issue . . . any . . . concurrence” that federal law requires for the construction of a natural-gas transportation facility. PADEP issues Water Quality Certifications “pursuant to federal law," which requires PADEP concurrence before construction can proceed. The court then rejected claims that PADEP failed to provide public notice the CWA requires and acted arbitrarily by issuing a Certification that was immediately effective despite being conditioned on obtaining additional permits; that PADEP’s decision violated the Due Process and Takings Clauses, given that the approval was necessary for Transco to begin eminent domain proceedings; and that the approval violated PADEP’s obligation to safeguard the Commonwealth’s natural resources. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law