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SW LEGAL'S CASE UPDATES—ENVIRONMENTAL LAW
SW Legal's Case Updates is a SW Legal Studies service to provide briefs of the latest state and federal court cases. Review the summaries and, for cases of interest, select the case brief. If you cannot find a case of interest, return to Topic Index .
Title
Summary
Superfund Site Clean Up Justified Only if Regulatory Standards Met
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that a city could not sue for contribution to past and future clean up costs of its water supply because the level of chemical detected is below the level held to be actionable.
(Updated October 2010)
Protecting Large Land Area for Endangered Species Meets ESA Standards
Briefed Case
Appeals court upheld a determination by the Fish and Wildlife service that a large area of land was needed to be declared critical habitat to protect various species. The Endangered Species Act requirements were met by the agency, so its determination is upheld.
(Updated October 2010)
State Control of Lobster Fishing Does Not Violate State Constitutional Rights
Briefed Case
Federal appeals court held that federal courts have jurisdiction over a challenge to state lobster fishing controls since the matter is subject to federal oversight. State limits on lobster traps do not violate equal protection of the law or the right of equal access guaranteed by the Rhode Island constitution.
(Updated January 2010)
Hurricane Katrina Victims May Sue Oil Companies for Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that those who suffered property losses due to Hurricane Katrina have the right to sue oil, energy, and chemical companies for nuisance and other tort claims for greenhouse gas emissions that are alleged to cause global warming and, thereby, the hurricane.
(Updated January 2010)
Supreme Court Refines Terms of Possible Liability under Superfund
Briefed Case
The Supreme Court held that a company that sold a chemical to another company is not liable for contamination at the property of the buyer who spilled some of the chemical. Knowledge that accidental spills may occur does not mean the seller was arranging for disposal of the chemical.
(Updated September 2009)
EPA Acted Properly in Deciding When Stationary Plant Operators Must Obtain a Permit
Briefed Case
Supreme Court held that the EPA acted within its regulatory authority by defining the same term differently as it applied to two different parts of the Clean Air Act.
(Updated September 2007)
EPA Has Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases
Briefed Case
Supreme Court held that the EPA, contrary to its position, has authority to regulate vehicle emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases that the Court recognized as contributing to global warming.
(Updated September 2007)
Private Party May Sue Government for Its Contribution to Site Contamination
Briefed Case
Supreme Court held that where the government contributed to the pollution of soil and ground water that required cleaning, the government could be sued for contribution to the clean up expenses.
(Updated August 2007)
Contributors to Contamination Must Contribute to Clean Up Even if Voluntary
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that when clean up of a contaminated site occurs, contributors to the contamination have an obligation to contribute to the cost of remediation even if the EPA has not addressed the requirements for a particular site. The law encourages voluntary efforts.
(Updated May 2007)
Environmental Groups Lacked Standing to Challenge Forest Service on River Boundaries
Briefed Case
Appeals court affirmed that environmental groups did not have standing to sue the Forest Service for failing to complete river management plans as ordered by Congress. The groups failed to show concrete injury that they suffered due to failure to complete the plans.
(Updated February 2006)
Passive Land Owner May Be Liable for Pollution Discharges
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that the owner of land that contained an abandoned mine shaft that may contribute pollution to a river may be liable for the pollution and for not having a discharge permit, even though the land owner never engaged in mining.
(Updated February 2006)
Cost of Assessment of Toxic Wastes Not Superfund Response Cost
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that a property owner who incurred costs evaluating the hazardous substances on the property had no cause of action under CERCLA to sue the government to recover such costs, as they are not response costs covered in the statute.
(Updated June 2005)
CERCLA Liability Tougher Under Alaska Law and Federal Law
Briefed Case
The Alaska high court answered questions from the federal appeals court about the state's CERCLA law. The court noted that strict liability for clean up of improperly disposed waste is tougher under state law than federal law as a company that is an "arranger" of equipment that causes the release can be liable.
(Updated May 2005)
Animals Do Not Have Standing to Sue under Environmental Statutes
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that suit may not be brought in the name of animals claimed to be injured by sonar used by the U.S. Navy. Animals do not have standing to sue under environmental statutes; only persons authorized by the statutes have standing.
(Updated April 2005)
Areas Being Considered for Wilderness Designation Need Not Be Vehicle Free Now
Briefed Case
Supreme Court held that the BLM had not violated its authority by declaring certain lands to be wilderness study areas but did not ban vehicle use from such areas. Under its authority, the BLM may study such areas for possible designation as wilderness areas, but it need not ban vehicles prior to such time.
(Updated October 2004)
No Environment Impact Statement Needed for Mexican Truck Operation in U.S.
Briefed Case
Supreme Court held that the federal agency that regulates trucks in the U.S. did not have to prepare a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement of the effects of emissions from Mexican trucks that carried goods into the U.S.
(Updated October 2004)
Manmade Ditch Connecting Land to Waterway Creates Wetland Jurisdiction
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that the state of Virginia had jurisdiction over control of property for purposes of compliance with wetlands regulations. The property, bordered by a highway, was connected to a navigable waterway more than two miles away by manmade ditches that carried water only intermittently. Under federal law, this constitutes a wetland, and Virginia law is the same as federal law for that purpose.
(Updated March 2004)
Restricting Local Land Use to Protect Endangered Species Does Not Violate Commerce Clause
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that for the government to restrict local land use to protect a specie that exists in only one state, and so is not in interstate commerce, does not violate the Commerce Clause because the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is national protection of species, not local land use controls.
(Updated July 2003)
Environmental Impact Statement Not Required for Change in Airport Operations
Briefed Case
Appeals court rejected a petition for the review of a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration that it did not have to perform an Environmental Impact Statement prior to changing the structure of flight plans at the Phoenix airport. The agency properly determined that the change was not significant, so no challenge to its decision was allowed.
(Updated June 2003)
Former Elephant Handler Has Standing to Sue Circus Under Endangered Species Act
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that a former circus elephant handler, who claims to have witnessed acts of cruelty to circus elephants, has standing to sue the circus under the Endangered Species Act in an effort to obtain redress for the elephants.
(Updated April 2003)
Courts Have Broad Discretion to Allocate Superfund Cleanup Costs
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that when there are many contributors to a Superfund site, the courts have broad discretion in deciding how to allocate the costs among the responsible parties, and the courts determination will be upheld, even if contrary to the findings of a special master, unless clearly in error.
(Updated March 2003)
Superfund Remedies May Not Be Challenged in Federal Court Until Completed
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that by statute, once the EPA has finalized plans for remediation of a Superfund site, there may be no challenges to the plan based on statutory or constitutional claims until after the remediation is complete.
(Updated March 2003)
EPA May Sue Polluter for Same Incident Already Prosecuted by State EPA
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that the EPA could sue a polluter to demand greater penalties than were obtained by the state environmental agency for the same matter. Since the federal demand differed from the state demands, the matter was not completely overlapping and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) authorizes EPA to take such action.
(Updated January 2003)
Clean Air Act Plans for Areas Not in Compliance Must Show Plans for Progress
Briefed Case
Appeals court held that the EPA violated the requirements of the Clean Air Act when it allowed extensions of existing State Implementation Plans for areas not in compliance without a showing of how those states would take stronger steps to be in compliance with air quality standards.
(Updated November 2002)
Budget Shortfall Does Not Excuse Non-Compliance with Endangered Species Act Requirements
Briefed Case
Court ordered the Secretary of Interior to publish a final endangered specie listing finding within thirty days. The finding had gone beyond the mandated twelve months because of inadequate budget at the agency to complete its work properly. The court will enforce the law as it is written, it is up to Congress to amend the law or change the budget of the agency.
(Updated February 2002)
Listing of Whale as Depleted Rather Than Endangered Not Abuse of Discretion
Briefed Case
Court rejected a challenge to a decision made by the Secretary of Commerce to list a whale as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which would result in less hunting by Native Americans, rather than endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which would impose more severe controls. The decision was not an abuse of discretion under the standards of the statutes.
(Updated November 1, 2001)
Riverkeepers Organization Has Standing to Sue for Violations of Clean Water Act
Briefed Case
Court agreed that a riverkeeper organization had standing to bring a citizen suit against a city for consistent violations of its wastewater treatment facility permit that was causing pollution to a river. Since the plaintiffs provided evidence of damage to their use and enjoyment of the river, the case could proceed.
(Updated November 1, 2001)
Groups Had No Standing to Challenge Decision to Reduce Deer Population
Briefed Case
South Carolina high court upheld the decision of the state Department of Natural Resources to reduce the deer population in a wildlife sanctuary. The decision was based on substantial evidence and the groups opposing the deer kill did not have standing to challenge the decision.
(Updated October 1, 2001)
Local Animal Waste Management Rules May Not Be More Strict Than State Rules
Briefed Case
North Carolina appeals court held that a county could not enact ordinances based on health concerns to regulate swine farm operations more strictly than they were regulated under various state ordinances. When the legislature has put in place a comprehensive regulatory scheme, local governments may not enact rules that are in conflict with state rules.
(Updated September 1, 2001)
Alaska Statute Imposing Strict Liability for Hazardous Waste Creates Private Cause of Action
Briefed Case
The Alaska high court interpreted a state statute regarding hazardous waste that imposes joint and several strict liability on all parties who contributed waste in the past, so that the parties may be sued by current property owners who must clean up the waste. The usual statute of limitations does not apply to this cause of action, which has few defenses.
(Updated August 1, 2001)
Spraying for Mosquitos Does Not Violate Clean Water Act
Briefed Case
Court refused to issue an injunction to stop the spraying of an insecticide to kill mosquitoes. The EPA had found that the spray was safe and did not pose a danger to the environment. Consequently, there was no violation of the Clean Water Act.
(Updated February 1, 2001)
Army Corps Assertion of Jurisdiction Over Pond Water too Sweeping
Briefed Case
The Supreme Court held that the Army Corps exceeded its jurisdiction by asserting control over pond water in an abandoned gravel pit to be navigable waters subject to its control. There is no legislative history to indicate that Congress intended to give the agency such broad control powers which otherwise remain with the states.
(Updated February 1, 2001)
Wetlands Permit Offered by Army Corps After Previous Denial Does Not Impact Takings Claim
Briefed Case
Court of Federal Claims ordered the government to pay property holders the value of their property lost when the government refused to issue wetlands construction permits for land previously slated for construction. Efforts by the government to offer construction permits after litigation began did not affect the takings claim.
(Updated February 1, 2001)
All Contributors to Superfund Site Are Liable
Briefed Case
Appeals court reversed a lower court ruling that contributors to a Superfund site had to cross a "threshold" level of pollution contribution to be liable for recovery costs. Liability is imposed on all contributors; the court will allocate costs according to contribution levels and other equitable factors.
(Updated January 1, 2001)
Mississippi River Flood Control Project May Proceed as EIS Meets Technical Requirements
Briefed Case
Appeals court upheld the right of the Army Corps to proceed with a massive flood control project on the Mississippi River that was funded by Congress. The Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Corps meets the standards of quality demanded by administrative procedure, so the Corps may proceed.
(Updated December 1, 2000)
Intervention by Environmental Group in Suit Against Forest Service Was Not Timely
Briefed Case
Appeals court affirmed the decision of a trial court that an environmental group could not intervene on the side of the Forest Service in its dispute with private land owners concerning rules affecting a wilderness area in Michigan. The group waited seven months to attempt to intervene, which was too far into the process, so the intervention was not timely.
(Updated November 1, 2000)
Federal Control of Endangered Species on Private Land Does Not Violate Commerce Clause
Briefed Case
Appeals court upheld verdict that Congress did not violate the Commerce Clause by passing the Endangered Species Act, thereby, empowering the Fish and Wildlife Service to impose regulations on private land in order to protect endangered specie. There is a sufficient link to interstate commerce for the regulatory scheme to be rational.
(Updated September 1, 2000)
Species Must Be Listed or Not Listed by FWS within 12 Months of Proposed Listing
Briefed Case
Court held for environmental groups that sued the government for not deciding whether to list endangered or threatened species within 12 months as required by Endangered Species Act. The claim by the Fish and Wildlife Service that its budget was too small to study the species properly may be true, but it does not relieve the duty created by the statute.
(Updated June 1, 2000)
No Compensation Due Land Owner Denied Construction Permits Due to New Environmental Concerns
Briefed Case
The Federal Circuit affirmed denial of compensation to a land owner who, after 14 years of litigation and background permit work, was denied a construction permit due to endangered species concerns. The fact that the ESA was passed after he bought the land did not affect the outcome.
(Updated January 1, 2000)
Clean Air Standards Stricken As Unconstitutional Delegation of Power to EPA
Briefed Case
Appeals court struck down new clean air standards issued by EPA as based upon an unconstitutional delegation of power to the agency by Congress. The agency could overcome the problem by issuing standards based on clear principles related to public health, which it failed to do.
(Updated October 1, 1999)
No Evidence of Environmental Harm, No Standing to Sue Alleged Water Polluter
Briefed Case
Appeals court upheld dismissal of suit against a metal smelter that was accused by environmental groups of dumping too much pollution into a lake. Since the group presented no scientific evidence of harm, in fact it failed to show any injury to any members of the group, it did not have standing to bring the suit.
(Updated September 1, 1999)
Responsible Party Must Cover All EPA Costs Related to Superfund Cleanup
Briefed Case
Appeals court upheld trial court decision that responsible party must cover all of EPA's costs in supervising compliance with its orders for cleanup of a Superfund site. EPA could include in its costs its indirect costs.
(Updated May 1, 1999)
Clean Air Act Penalties Must Include Consideration of Financial Condition of Violater
Briefed Case
Appeals court reversed decision of district court to impose almost $3 million in fines for violations of the Clean Air Act by a bankrupt party. A violator's financial condition is a factor to be considered when penalties are assessed.
(Updated May 1, 1999)
No Civil Penalties Against U.S. Allowed Under Clean Air Act
Briefed Case
Court granted the U.S. summary judgment, holding that the Clean Air Act does not allow the federal government to be assessed civil penalties for CAA violations at federal facilities. Since sovereign immunity was not waived on that issue, there may be no penalties.
(Updated April 1, 1999)
Superfund Liability for Parent Firm Based on Degree of Control of Subsidiary
Briefed Case
Derivative liability for parent firm under CERCLA occurs when the corporate veil may be pierced, such as when the parent actively controls the operations of the subsidiary that caused the pollution.
(Updated November 17, 1998)
Hazardous Waste Classification Overly Broad
Briefed Case
Appeals court ordered EPA to demonstrate that ore containing small amounts of lead does, in fact, constitute a hazard that would fall under CERCLA. Furthermore, not moving the ore within three days of EPA order might not constitute abandonment.
(Updated October 5, 1998)
EPA Must Justify Failure to Strengthen SO2 Standards in Light of Critic's Evidence
Briefed Case
Various health and environmental groups provided evidence that millions of asthmatics may suffer adverse health effects under the current EPA standards for sulfur dioxide. EPA refusal to strengthen the SO2 standards was not sufficiently documented to rebut the claims made by petitioners, so the appeals court remanded the issue to EPA.
(Updated May 29, 1998)
Linkage of Chemicals to Groundwater Contamination Must Be Established by EPA
Briefed Case
Company was held to be PRP responsible for $4.4 million in costs of NPL Superfund site clean up. EPA rejected company's assertion of evidence that contamination came from another source. Once EPA administrative remedies are exhausted, company has the right to have that issue of fact reviewed at trial.
(Updated May 29, 1998)
Army Corps Definition of Wetlands Too Expansive
Briefed Case
Criminal conviction of land developer overturned by federal appeals court that found the Army Corps of Engineers' regulation defining "waters of the United States" to include any wetlands that "could affect" interstate commerce to be unconstitutional for going beyond the authority granted by Congress to protect water from pollution.
(Updated 4-6-98)
EPA Cannot Grant Dirty Air Grace Periods
Briefed Case
Sierra Club protest of EPA grant of a one-year grace period for non-compliance with Clean Air Act standards deemed in conflict with clear language of statute by Court of Appeals.
(Updated 12-29-97)
Private Settlement of Superfund Site Cleanup Costs Controlled by Uniform Comparative Fault Act
Briefed Case
Parties that were liable for remediation of Superfund site negotiated a settlement. Party with the most at stake requested application of the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act rejected as creating improper and unfair incentives compared to the Uniform Comparative Fault Act.
(Updated 12-29-97)
Minimal Judgment Deserves Minimal Attorneys' Fees
Briefed Case
Plaintiffs in CERCLA suit won a trivial judgment against the U.S. Navy. District court approval of only $180,880 attorneys' fees of $1.49 million requested was still too high given trivial damages won at trial.
(Updated 11-14-97)
Knowledge Does Not Equal Power in PRIG Suit Under Clean Water Act
Briefed Case
District court denies motion claiming lack of personal jurisdiction because the minimum contacts requirements were satisfied when defendant, out-of-state party in a breach of contract suit sent emails and other internet communications to plaintiff's home state of business.
(Updated 9-12-97)

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