On February 20, 2020, Earthjustice, on behalf of a variety of nonprofit organizations, including the Sierra Club, brought suit against the United States Department of Defense (“DOD”), alleging that the DOD violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) in its decision to enter into contracts for the incineration of its unused stockpiles of firefighting foam. Save Our County, et al. v. United States Department of Defense, et al., 3:20-cv-01267 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2020). According to the complaint, the incineration of firefighting foam poses a threat to communities as the burning of the foam releases per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), a group of chemicals found in firefighting foam that may be linked to certain adverse health effects. In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the DOD’s contracts violate NEPA because the DOD did not prepare an environmental impact statement prior to consenting to the incineration of the firefighting foam. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the incineration of the firefighting foam does not comply with certain regulations created by the NDAA that govern the incineration of PFAS-containing materials.

Continue Reading PFAS Litigation Continues as EPA Proposes Increased Federal Regulations

On Monday, January 27, the United States Supreme Court issued a notice granting both Florida and Georgia 45 days to respond to a special master recommendation recently issued by New Mexico-based federal Tenth Circuit Judge Paul Kelly, as well as time to address each other’s arguments in subsequent legal briefs.

The notice sets the stage for the justices to potentially hear the case later this spring or more likely, according to Court observers, in their next term that begins in October, 2020. The Court could also decide the 7-year-old case, Florida v. Georgia, without further oral arguments depending on the parties’ submissions. Florida sought to limit Georgia’s water usage in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, where the Chattahoochee River transects Alabama and Georgia, the Flint River flows through rich South Georgia farmland, and the combined flows into the Apalachicola River ultimately reaches Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The headwaters of the basin within Lake Lanier serve as the main source of drinking water for a majority of metro Atlanta and irrigates farms in southwest Georgia, providing an economic impact to Georgia estimated to be $13.8 billion.


Continue Reading Supreme Court Sets Stage for Next Water Wars Showdown

On January 23, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (collectively, “Agencies”) released the pre-publication version of the much-anticipated final rule narrowing the meaning of the term “waters of the United States,” which defines waters subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). The final rule, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” represents the latest development in the Trump Administration’s extensive effort to repeal and replace the Obama Administration’s 2015 rule redefining the term (“2015 Rule”) and will become effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Continue Reading Trump Administration Releases Final WOTUS Rule

Plaintiffs across the country have filed suit seeking relief for their exposure to per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), a group of man-made chemicals that the plaintiffs hope to link to a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer. While the health effects attributable to these chemicals are under study by state and federal regulators, decisionmakers have been slow to implement rules and regulations that provide those who have been exposed to these chemicals with a clear path for recovery. While regulators grapple with these emerging contaminants, courts are weighing in on whether those injured by exposure to PFAS are entitled to relief under the existing regulatory landscape.

Continue Reading Court Dismisses PFOA and PFOS Contamination Claim Amidst Changing Regulatory Landscape

On January 8, 2020, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard testimony from representatives of Wyoming and Maryland in an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of programs under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) designed to reduce nonpoint source (“NPS”) pollution.

NPS pollution, unlike point source pollution that can typically be traced to an industrial or sewage treatment facility, is created by land runoff that results from rainfall or snowmelt. As the water moves over and through the ground, it picks up sediment and other pollutants that are eventually deposited into nearby waterways. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, NPS “pollutants have harmful effects on drinking water supplies, recreation, fisheries, and wildlife.”


Continue Reading Senators Examine Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program

Somewhat like a soccer game, time on the dispute between Florida and Georgia over the waters of the Apalachicola Chattahoochee Flint (ACF) basin seems to be kept on the field. It is difficult to know from the stands exactly where the game stands notwithstanding the score.  But the report issued by Special Master Hon. Paul J. Kelly, Jr. on December 11, 2019, plainly tipped the balance in Georgia’s favor when Special Master Kelly stated that he did not recommend that “the Supreme Court grant Florida’s request for a decree equitably apportioning the waters of the ACF Basin because the evidence has not shown harm to Florida caused by Georgia; the evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable; and the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms.”  Rep’t of Sp. Mast. at 81.
Continue Reading Florida/Georgia Water Wars: Advantage Georgia

On April 26, 2018, a North Carolina jury awarded 10 neighbors $51 million in the first North Carolina hog farming case to be heard before U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt.  Almost a week later on May 9, 2018, Judge Britt reduced the jury’s award of $23 million in punitive damages to nearly $3 million in punitive damages because of a North Carolina state law that limits punitive damages to $250,000-per-plaintiff.  This was the first case tried of 26 lawsuits brought by 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations in eastern North Carolina against Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.

Continue Reading Punitive Damages in North Carolina Hog Farm Cases Reduced

The most recent development in the decades-long water wars between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama occurred today at the Supreme Court.  In a 5-4 decision, Justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor overruled the Special Master’s February 14, 2017 decision and remanded the case back to him for further consideration on factual issues.  In his decision, the Special Master dismissed Florida’s claim against Georgia for its consumptive use of water from the ACF River Basin, stating that Florida failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that a limit on Georgia’s water consumption would make any difference to Florida’s economic and ecological harm.

Continue Reading SCOTUS Overrules Special Master’s Water Wars Decision, and Remands It Back for Further Consideration

On January 8, 2018, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on the decision issued by Special Master Ralph Lancaster in the long-running dispute between Florida and Georgia over the fate of water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin.  The Special Master sided with Georgia, less on the merits than for procedural reasons, finding that Florida had failed to meet its burden of showing how Florida’s proposed remedy of a consumption cap on Georgia would be effective to curb alleged excessive water use by Georgia due to control of impoundments on the Chattahoochee River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”), not a party to the suit.

Continue Reading Florida and Georgia Square Off In High Court; Mixed Signals from Justices

The United States Supreme Court announced today that it will hear oral argument in the Florida v. Georgia lawsuit on January 8, 2018.  In that case, Florida sought to mandate a statewide water usage cap for Georgia but was held to have failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that such a remedy would be effective where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a major manager of impoundments along the Chattahoochee River, was not a party to the lawsuit.  The lawsuit represents the most recent battle in the long-running “water wars” among the Southeastern states over the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee River Basin.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Takes Up Florida v. Georgia Lawsuit in January