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On January 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued a ruling reversing the district court’s decision that Asarco could not proceed with its claims for cost recovery at a Utah Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) mining site. The case is Asarco, LLC v. Noranda Mining, Inc.

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On August 17, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeals sitting in San Antonio held, in a 2 to 1 decision, that a City of Plastic bagsLaredo ordinance prohibiting the distribution of “single use” plastic bags at check-out counters in order to reduce litter was preempted by state law, namely, Section 361.0961 of the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA). The case is Laredo Merchants Association v. City of Laredo, and it could be important for many Texas cities coping with solid waste management issues.

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Pillsbury attorney Julia Judish provided commentary on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro that vacated a Ninth Circuit ruling after holding that Department of Labor Fair Labor Standards Act regulations were not entitled to deference because they were issued without adequate explanation. In Attys React To High Court’s Auto Service Advisers OT Ruling, Judish stated:

“The Encino Motorcars decision will have little direct effect on the scope of FLSA overtime exemptions. The FLSA question presented in Encino — whether service advisers at auto dealerships are eligible for overtime — is unresolved. On remand, the Ninth Circuit will decide that question. The decision’s significance lies in its holding that an agency’s published regulations are not entitled to deference if the regulation departs from the agency’s long-standing prior interpretations, and if the agency has not published an explanation and analysis of its changed interpretation. Other published regulations may be subject to similar challenges.”

The Encino decision is but yet another recent decision calling into question whether deference is to be given to an agency’s rulemaking. The Chevron deference debate continues.

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At the age of 21, in 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and many of his friends enlisted in the Massachusetts Infantry after thememorialday outbreak of the Civil War. He saw the worst of the war, and was nearly killed several times and suffered two grave wounds. By 1864, at the end of his enlistment, he had had his fill of it. Yet his experience left an indelible mark on him, as it did on most of his contemporaries, and he was grateful for the opportunity to serve his county in these great battles. Throughout his long life, he would recall where he was, on a day 50 or 60 years before, when the anniversaries of such battles as Balls Bluff and Antietam triggered his memories. Continue reading

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In Implications for the Power Sector of Recent Rulings by U.S. Supreme Court and FERC, Pillsbury attorneys Michael Hindus, Andrew Weissman, and Katherine Vorhis discuss an important issue the power industry is currently facing — the tension federal and state roles in power supply planning. Of note, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s April 19 decision in Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing LLC et al. wherein the Court struck down on federal pre-emption grounds a Maryland program intended to support construction of a new 725 MW natural gas-fired generating plant in Maryland after concluding that the program invaded “FERC’s [exclusive] regulatory turf” over determination of wholesale rates for electricity. This was followed within days by FERC blocking the implementation of two Purchase Power Agreements approved by the Ohio Public Utilities Commission just days later. The tension likely will continue, and the sparring over this issue could intensify, given the states’ efforts to support continued operation of existing generating units and construction of new plants.

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For contractors who often subject to one or more of federal environmental laws or regulations, below is a brief report on some the significant environmental law and administrative cases decided since late June of 2015 by jurisdiction:

District of Columbia

Energy Future Coalition, et al. v. EPA, et al., 793 F.3d 141 (D.C. Cir. July 14, 2015) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (DC Circuit) rejected a challenge to 2014 EPA rules regulating emission testing requirements for new motor vehicles, 40 C.F.R. § 1065.701(a), concluding that EPA’s rules were simply reflecting the statutory scheme enacted by the Congress.

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Owners of some farms subject to EPA’s Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures (SPCC) Regulation will be relieved to hear that some relief from the rigid requirements is here. EPA’s SPCC Regulation applies to nearly everyone—including farms—who manages “oil” in regulated quantities in locations where, due to the location of the oil storage facilities, any spill or release of that oil in harmful quantities could reasonably be expected to be discharged into the navigable waters of the United States in violation of the CWA. The SPCC Regulation requires the preparation of an SPCC plan that complies with 40 C.F.R. § 112.7, and can trigger training and plan certification by qualified engineers. For some farms, this is a burdensome and expensive compliance requirement.

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Everyone potentially exposed to civil penalties available under the Clean Water Act eight(CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(7), should familiarize themselves with the eight factors a court will consider when deciding what penalty should be assessed. In the case known as “Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010,” for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, these factors made the difference between a penalty in the millions and one in the billions.

Upon consideration of the first six factors set forth in Section 1321(b)(8) of the CWA for the assessment of a civil penalty, on November 30, 2015, Judge Carl Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued a ruling finding Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, a “co-owner” of the Macondo Well, liable to the United States for civil penalties in the amount of $159.5 million. The maximum penalty that could have been assessed was $3.5 billion, but Judge Barbier concluded, after weighing the eight factors, that a civil penalty of $159.5 million would be appropriate because, as a non-operating co-owner, Anadarko’s penalty should be limited to $50 per barrel, and not $1100 per barrel. 

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Developers subject to the Federal Power Act (FPA) should carefully consider the implications of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s recent opinion on the scope of the “municipal preference” under Section 7(a) of the FPA. The Court, in HydroelectricWestern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, et al., v. FERC, recently considered the breadth of the “municipal preference” in Section 7(a) of the FPA, including the meaning of “municipality,” and declined to support the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “geographic proximity test” for municipalities to qualify for the preference. Under the Court’s ruling, a municipality qualifies for the municipal preference regardless of their proximity to the location of the development. Developers may now be exposed to greater competition for developments with municipalities having a trump card because they qualify for the municipal preference.  As one would hope, the Court of Appeals restated the importance of the Court’s review FERC’s interpretation under the two-step framework of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837, 842–43 (1984).  The opinion, of course, also reflects the Supreme Court’s use of Chevron in deciding a number of important cases the past two terms. This opinion may also result in FERC being more careful in the future.

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In Sixth Circuit Rejects Clean Air Act Preemption of State Common Law Claims: Four Things to Know, Pillsbury attorneys Matt Morrison and Bryan Stockton explore the Six Circuit Court of Appeals recent rejection of Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401 et seq. (CAA), preemption of state common law claims in Merrick, et al. v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc. and Little et al. v. Louisville Gas & Electric Company; PPL CorporationThe takeaway is that a facility that is otherwise in compliance with CAA emission requirements can still face lawsuits by neighboring landowners for traditional torts such as nuisance and trespass. Merrick and Little add to the foundation of precedent across the Second, Third, and Sixth Circuits, and Iowa Supreme Court.