The US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) recently finalized its long-anticipated National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives (“NECIs”) for fiscal years 2024 through 2027, naming six “priority areas” on which EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (“OECA”) will focus its enforcement efforts and direct additional resources. In his first significant action since being confirmed by the Senate on July 20, 2023, OECA Assistant Administrator David Uhlmann issued a memorandum on August 17, 2023 to the EPA Regional Administrators, advising of the six NECIs. He stated that over the next four years EPA will “address the most significant public health and environmental challenges, protect vulnerable and overburdened communities, and promote greater compliance with our environmental laws.”
A recent decision by the Eleventh Circuit could provide guidance to defendants seeking to resolve government enforcement actions and obtain protection from future environmental citizen suits. …
Continue Reading Looking for Protection from Future Environmental Citizen Suits? The Eleventh Circuit Provides Guidance
A district court recently dismissed multiple Clean Water Act citizen suit claims under the concurrent-remedies doctrine, confirming that the doctrine continues to be “alive, well, and strong” as a potential defense to environmental claims.
Continue Reading Concurrent-Remedies Doctrine Bars Clean Water Act Claims
A recent Fourth Circuit decision narrowly construed the state administrative enforcement bar to the Clean Water Act citizen suit, allowing a citizen suit seeking civil penalties to proceed despite the fact the state had already issued a notice of violation for the same alleged conduct. …
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Ruling Narrowly Construes Administrative Enforcement Bar to Clean Water Act Citizen Suit
A recent federal district court decision shows how a consent decree can provide protection to responsible parties under CERCLA by precluding later-filed tort claims seeking additional relief or different remedial action.
Continue Reading Federal Court Finds Tort Claims Preempted by CERCLA Consent Decree
Last week, in Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. v. Cantrell, the Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a recent decision affirming the dismissal of a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit. The key issue in the underlying appeal, 25 F.4th 288 (5th Cir. 2022), was whether certain maintenance activities qualify as a “removal” action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The court affirmed that the maintenance activities do indeed constitute a “removal action.” Therefore, the suit was barred under 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(iv), which precludes RCRA citizen suits where a “responsible party is diligently conducting a removal action” pursuant to a CERCLA consent decree with EPA.
Continue Reading Fifth Circuit Endorses Broad Reading of “Removal” Under CERCLA To Bar RCRA Citizen Suit
Recent federal court decisions continue to show that Article III standing can be a formidable defense to environmental citizen suits, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016).
Continue Reading Article III Standing Still Proving to be a Formidable Defense to Environmental Citizen Suits
Courts are starting to apply the Supreme Court’s new standard under County of Maui to claims under the Clean Water Act, highlighting the fact-intensive and highly technical nature of the relevant inquiry. …
Continue Reading Courts Begin to Apply County of Maui to Clean Water Act Claims
In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards et al. v. Red River Coal Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1182464 (4th Cir. Mar. 30, 2021), a unanimous Fourth Circuit panel recently affirmed a district court holding that an operator cannot be held liable under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Surface Mining Act) for a discharge that is otherwise shielded from liability by the Clean Water Act (CWA). The court’s opinion expressly relied on the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard, LLC, 781 F.3d 281 (6th Cir. 2015), which reached the same conclusion.
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Holds that Mine Not Liable Under Surface Mining Act When CWA Permit Shield Applies
In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters. In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit: “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.” Id. at 1468 (emphasis added). In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.” Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).
Continue Reading Groups Seeking to Expand Reach of Clean Water Act