Environmental Law Posts, from members of Post & Schell’s Environmental Group, are intended to provide current updates and analysis of judicial opinions, emerging regulatory issues, and potential risks and liabilities in environmental law.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board recently ruled that a Post & Schell client, Sunoco Pipeline, L.P., was not liable for attorney and expert witness fees incurred by landowners in connection with an appeal of two environmental permits issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Recent Case Offers Five Lessons for Corporate Managers on Avoiding Personal Liability for Environmental Violations
Few topics cause as much discomfort for corporate managers as the question of whether they can be held personally liable for environmental violations committed by the companies they manage. When a manager commits an affirmative, unlawful act, the case is fairly clear. But what about when the violation results from a manager's failure to act? Recently, in Schlafke v. DEP, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board addressed just that question, providing five lessons for managers.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is about to address the question of whether sharing legal advice with outside consultants engaged by the client results in a waiver of the attorney-client privilege or attorney work product privilege. The Superior Court has already partially addressed this question. Last summer in Bousamra v. Excela Health, 167 A.3rd 728 (Pa. Super. 2017), the Superior Court ruled that both the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product privilege were waived when an email from outside counsel was shared with an outside consultant. The Supreme Court has granted allocator (Bousamra v. Excela Health, 5 WAP 2018) and the initial briefs in the Supreme Court are due this week.
In a 5-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided last week that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cannot assess daily penalties under the Clean Streams Law on the basis that contaminants released to groundwater, or other Waters of the Commonwealth, remain in those waters or have migrated from one water to another. The Court struck down the so-called mere presence and water-to-water discharge theories, put forth by PADEP in opposition to a declaratory judgment action filed by EQT Production Company. PADEP had used these theories of liability to support, in part, an over $4.5 million civil penalty lodged against EQT for a release of hydraulic fracturing flow-back water from a lined impoundment.
Commonwealth Court Affirms PUC's Exclusive Jurisdiction over the Siting of Intrastate Pipeline Facilities
On February 20, 2018, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the dismissal of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and others' challenge to Sunoco Pipeline, L.P's construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Goshen Township. In so doing, the Court reiterated the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's exclusive jurisdiction over public utility facilities, including the ME2 pipeline, and rejected the attempt of West Goshen Township to regulate the construction of the ME2 pipeline through its zoning powers.
Often, decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) only impact a narrow range of entities and circumstances.Â However, several recent and pending cases related to environmental issues and land use will instead impact a wide-range of property owners.Â
On March 29, 2017, the Commonwealth Court issued its decision in Snyder Brothers, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (1043 C.D. 2015). The decision appears to be a simple legal interpretation of the statutory definition of "stripper well" in a manner beneficial to Snyder Brothers and potentially generally beneficial to the unconventional natural gas industry. However, media attention and political reactions have far outstripped the Court's basic legal analysis. The decision has been cited as a harbinger of diminished impact fee revenue; as a reason to amend Act 13; and, not unexpectedly, as a justification for a new severance tax. The reactions, while not unexpected, are perhaps overstated.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Determine the Scope of Monetary Penalties Allowed Under the Clean Streams Law
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) has appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court an order of the Commonwealth Court which significantly limits the amount of monetary penalties PADEP can assess under the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law (CSL). Although it is still early in the proceedings, it appears likely that the Supreme Court's decision could provide important precedent regarding the extent to which PADEP can assess civil penalties under the CSL, especially if the Court accepts and addresses all of the issues PADEP has asserted are implicated by the Commonwealth Court's decision.