In a decision released on March 31, in Sackett v. EPA, the U.S. District Court for Idaho held, without benefit of oral argument, that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion for summary judgment should be granted, and accordingly, the Sacketts had violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) by making improvements to 0.63 acres of land they owned without a required CWA permit when the land qualified as a “wetlands.”
On March 29, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska issued two separate rulings that reversed and set aside energy and environmental decisions made by the current administration, which had revoked decisions made in these same matters by the prior administration. The cases are League of Conservation Voters, et al., v. Trump (concerning the development of oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)) and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, et al., v. Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (which concerns a Land Exchange that would facilitate the construction of a road between two remote Alaska communities when that road would traverse parts of a designated national wilderness).
On March 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided an important Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Citizen Suit, LAJIM, LLC, et al. v. General Electric Co., affirming the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois’s ruling finding General Electric Company (GE) liable for the contamination on summary judgment but denying LAJIM, LLC’s request for injunctive relief “because, despite the many opportunities the court provided, plaintiffs did not offer evidence stablishing a need for injunctive relieve beyond what the company had already done in the state action.”
On March 19, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries, affirming the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in this maritime tort case involving the availability of the “bare-metal defense.” The bare-metal defense’s basic idea is that a manufacturer who delivers a product “bare metal”—that is without the insulation or other material that must be added for the product’s proper operation—is not generally liable for injuries caused by asbestos in later-added materials.
The Court confirmed that
“maritime law’s special solicitude for the safety and protection of sailors counsels us to adopt a standard-based approach to the bare-metal defense that permits a plaintiff to recover, at least in negligence, from a manufacturer of a bare-metal product when the facts show the plaintiff’s injuries were a reasonably foreseeable result of the manufacturer’s conduct.”
On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided the case of Vermont Railway, Inc. v. Town of Shelburne. The U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont granted the railway a permanent injunction against an ordinance passed by the Town of Shelburne, VT, that placed severe restrictions on the railway’s use of a storage facility to be used for the stockpiling and storage of large quantities of rock salt to be used in the railroad’s winter de-icing operations.
On February 28, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), “in consultation with the Federal Railroad Administration and pursuant to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) of 2015, issued a Final Rule “to revise and clarify requirements for comprehensive oil spill response plans (COSRPs)” and “[e]xpands the applicability for COSRPs; modernizes the requirements for COSRPs; requires railroads to share information about high-hazard flammable train (HHFT) operations with State and tribal emergency response commissions to improve community preparedness; and incorporates by reference a voluntary standard.
The U.S. has experienced a large number of natural disasters requiring the immediate assistance that only the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can provide. In Barbosa, et al., v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, decided March 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit provided a very informative discussion of the FEMA administrative review process, and held that a fundamental provision of the Stafford Act creates a jurisdictional bar to judicial review of administrative appeals of FEMA eligibility and assistance determinations. That bar is located at 42 U.S.C. § 5148.
On February 27, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and held that international organizations, such as the World Bank, while being protected by the International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945 (IOIA), are not absolutely immune from lawsuits filed in federal court because the protections afforded by the IOIA are tempered by the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The case is Jam, et al. v. International Finance Corp.
On March 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided National Parks Conservation Assoc. v. Todd T. Simonite, Lieutenant General, et al. The case involves an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for a construction permit to build electric power lines over the “historic James River, from whose waters Captain John Smith explored the New World.”
The Corps concluded after reviewing the thousands of comments submitted to it in connection with this application, and after considering the views of several government agencies and conservation groups, that an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) was not required, and that its Environmental Assessment assured the Corps that the project would not result is significant environmental impacts. The Court of Appeals has concluded that, based on this evidence, the Corps’ refusal to prepare an EIS thoroughly discussing all these points was arbitrary and capricious. The Corps has been ordered to prepare the EIS and to take special note of its obligations under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and its obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act.
On February 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. City of Roanoke, et al.; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was an Intervenor-Defendant. The Fourth Circuit held that a large stormwater management fee (stated to be $417,000.00 for the year 2017) levied by the City of Roanoke against the railroad to assist in the financing of the City’s permitted municipal stormwater management system was a permissible fee and not a discriminatory tax placed on the railroad.