Environmental Litigation

The GeoProfessional Business Association (GBA) – formerly known as ASFE – has released a new study on the standard of care for conducting Phase I environmental site assessments. This document is the fourth in a series of studies the organization has produced since the inception of the due diligence process in the early 1990’s. The study is an evaluation of approximately 200 Phase I reports from across the country, written between 2007 and 2010. The results of the study will be a valuable tool in determining whether a Phase I conducted during that time period meets the standard of care or not.

Continue Reading New Standard of Care Document on Environmental Due Diligence (“Phase I”) Process now available

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

A new chapter opened last week in the perennial water wars between Georgia and Florida.  After briefing by both sides, including amici, relative to whether Special Master Ralph Lancaster correctly decided that Florida had failed to carry its burden in this original jurisdiction action, the Supreme Court in an October 10, 2017 Order granted oral argument in the case to be heard “in due course.”  Presumably, that will yield an argument during the Court’s October Term which usually completes in June or July.  Spokesmen for Georgia and Florida welcomed the opportunity to address the Court on the merits.

The dispute involves the water of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (“ACF Basin”), a network of rivers, dams, and reservoirs that begins in northern Georgia and ends in the Florida panhandle.  Georgia and Florida have been disputing the extent of each state’s use of the ACF Basin waters for years but recently, in 2014, the dispute made its way to the United States Supreme Court.   There, Florida argued that overconsumption of waters in Georgia, particularly in connection with agribusiness uses on the Flint River, have led to dangerously low flows of waters into Florida from the ACF Basin and the downfall of the Apalachicola Bay’s oyster fishery.  Florida requested that the Court cap the amount of water Georgia can use at levels that existed in 1992. Continue Reading Supreme Court Orders Oral Argument On GA-FL Water Wars

A key brief from the United States has set the United States Supreme Court on a path towards finally resolving the original jurisdiction dispute between Georgia and Florida over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (“ACF Basin”).  On August 7, 2017, the Trump Administration filed a brief in the United Stated Supreme Court as an Amicus Curiae in the disputed “water wars” case between Georgia and Florida.  Postured where Florida is asking the Court to set aside the ruling of the Special Master who found that it had stated no redressable injury, the government brief sided with the Special Master’s ruling.

Continue Reading Southern Water Wars Teed Up For Ruling

On July 14, 2017, three environmental groups (Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, and Earth Justice) petitioned the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for a full review of its May decision that the EPA properly withheld testing data in response to a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request.  The petition for rehearing en banc asks that the full Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reconsider the environmental groups’ arguments as opposed to the three judge panel that originally heard the case.

Continue Reading Greens seek rehearing on EPA withholding power plant data

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently issued a memorandum rolling out a new policy prohibiting settlement payments to third parties.  The policy, which is effective immediately, prohibits DOJ attorneys from entering into settlement agreements that include payments to non-governmental organizations or third-party organizations that were not parties to the dispute.  The memorandum aims to ensure that settlement funds are used to compensate victims, redress harm, or punish and deter unlawful conduct.

Continue Reading AG Sessions Issues Policy Prohibiting Third Party Payments in Settlement Agreements

Parties that are potentially responsible for residential environmental contamination in North Carolina face broad exposure and unpredictable outcomes. A recent appellate decision limiting damages commercial property owners can recover for environmental contamination to the diminution in value of the property greatly expanded the potential scope of liability for residential environmental claims. The decision recognized a personal use exception that could require responsible parties to pay well in excess of diminished value to remediate or repair residential property. When property claims are coupled with claims for non-economic injuries for diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions, the potential exposure for responsible parties in residential contamination cases can be considerable and vary greatly.  A full summary of the decision is available here.

In a seventy page opinion, Special Master Ralph Lancaster issued his recommendation to the Supreme Court today concluding that Florida had not met its burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that Georgia should be burdened with a consumption cap on its water use.  Key to the Special Master’s ruling was a finding that because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not be controlled by any decree of Court, a consumption cap remedy would be ineffectual.  The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin is composed of two major forks, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee fork that is highly regulated by the Corps in terms of streamflows, and the Flint fork for which there is little to no regulation.

Continue Reading Special Master Rejects Florida’s Claim For More Water From Georgia

Applying Chevron deference, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on January 18, 2017, reversed the Southern District of New York by a 2-1 margin and concluded that the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (the “EPA”) Water Transfers Rule that permits transfers between waters of the United States without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit was sound.  (Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. et al. v. USEPA, et al., U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Docket Nos. 14-1823, 14-1909, 14-1991, 14-1997, 14-2003, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 914). The controversy stemmed from the transfer of water from the Schoharie Reservoir through the Shandaken Tunnel into the Esopus Creek in New York.  Historically, the EPA has taken a hands-off approach to water transfers, choosing not to subject them to the requirements of the NPDES permitting program established by the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) in 1972.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Gives Thumbs Up To EPA Water Transfers Rule