Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

Recently in Environmental Law Category

A vermiculite mine in northwestern Montana was one of the principal industries for residents in the town of Libby. Unfortunately, a byproduct of mining vermiculite is asbestos, which, for decades, has been known to be a dangerous, toxic substance from which exposure can result in severe illness causing death.

As a result of the mass exposure, workers in the mine, their families, and other residents of the town made up the thousands who have gotten sick over the years. While the mine is now closed, the residents of Libby have been left to face the aftermath.

The downtown Los Angeles underground light rail has finally gotten the green light from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Two downtown businesses, a shopping plaza and a hotel, filed suit back in 2013 to stop the construction, claiming that the construction would have a negative impact on their businesses. The two businesses specifically claimed that the noise from the construction, as well as other impacts from the construction, would disturb the retail mall's shoppers as well as the hotel's guests.

Last year, the federal court granted summary judgment against the businesses, however the businesses appealed. After over three years of litigation, it looks like the construction may finally begin on the new lines.

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) to put sea ice seals, aka bearded seals, on the threatened species list. While adding a species to the threatened species list is nothing new, how the bearded seal made it on the list is quite unique.

The Ninth Circuit Court considered evidence that the seals' habitat was being destroyed by climate change. Based on current climate change trends, projections for their habitat are bleak. What's significant here is that the court is accepting the climate change projections for the years 2050 to 2100. A similar ruling was upheld in the DC Circuit in 2013 concerning polar bears, but generally it's very rare for a court to list a species as threatened based on climate change projections.

A Win for Nature: Fed Court Strikes Navy Sonar Program

Nature's lawyers won a victory for marine life last week. The Natural Resources Defense Counsel and other activists had challenged a U.S. Navy sonar detection program that places loudspeakers in the ocean, creating walls of sound that travel hundreds of miles and have been found to harm marine mammals.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ocean's advocates, saying that the Navy did not do enough to protect marine life. The sonar blasts reportedly deafen mammals, drive them from breeding grounds, and impede their ability to navigate, communicate, and catch prey. The court found that the government must do more to protect the marine mammals, and not just in waters near the United States.

Judge OKs $5B Settlement in Kerr-McGee Pollution Case

A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement in which Anadarko Petroleum Corp will reportedly pay $5.15 billion to clean up pollution at nearly 2,000 sites across the country.

The United States Department of Justice is calling the settlement the largest-ever recovery for environmental cleanup, reports Reuters. The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by creditors of Tronox, a spin-off of energy company Kerr-McGee, against Anadarko, which acquired Kerr-McGee in 2006.

What led to this record-setting environmental cleanup settlement?

Wyoming's Gray Wolves Placed Back Under Federal Protection

A federal judge has reinstated federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming but stopped short of declaring them once again endangered or threatened.

The ruling marks the latest twist in an extended legal battle between the state of Wyoming and federal authorities regarding the wolves, reports USA Today. In 2012, the wolves were delisted from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and control over maintaining the wolves' population was transferred to individual states, including Wyoming.

Tuesday's ruling, however, places the wolves in Wyoming back under the protection of the federal government.

Neb. Indoor Smoking Ban's Exemptions Ruled Unconstitutional

Nebraska's indoor smoking ban remains intact, but the exemptions for smokers to puff inside cigar bars and tobacco stores has been ruled unconstitutional.

In its decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that there was no substantial difference between a cigar bar and other publicly accessible workplaces, and that special exemptions for these businesses are "directly contrary" to the state's indoor smoking ban. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the state's attorney general asked the high court on Monday to rehear the case, which may have dire effect on all future legislation.

What did the Nebraska Supreme Court dislike about the smoking ban's exemptions?

BP Wants Supreme Court Review of Oil Spill Settlement

After losing their appeal of a ruling regarding the terms of a multi-billion dollar settlement for injuries caused by 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP will seek U.S. Supreme Court review in the case.

"BP will seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Fifth Circuit decisions relating to the compensation of claims for losses with no apparent connection to the Deepwater Horizon spill," said the company in a statement reported by CNN. "In addition, BP will ask the Fifth Circuit not to issue its mandate until the Supreme Court has considered the matter."

What is it about the settlement that has BP trying to take this case all the way to the top, and what does it want the Supreme Court to do about it?

Wind Farm Owner to Pay $1M for Killing Eagles, Birds

The company behind a Wyoming wind farm pleaded guilty to killing more than a dozen eagles and other birds with the farm's wind turbines, agreeing to pay $1 million in fines.

Duke Energy plead guilty to killing more than 160 birds, including 14 golden eagles from 2009 to 2013 at two wind farms in Wyoming, reports the Los Angeles Times. This plea marks the first successful criminal conviction for a wind farm under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Walmart to Pay $110M for Environmental-Protection Violations

Walmart has pleaded guilty to violating environmental protection laws, including the Clean Water Act, in three separate cases this week. The world's largest retailer is now set to pay more than $110 million in fines.

Walmart admitted to six misdemeanor counts of violating the Clean Water Act in two cases filed by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company admitted to illegally disposing of hazardous waste materials at its retail stores.

In a third case out of Missouri, Walmart also pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by improperly handling pesticides that had been returned to its stores by customers.