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.
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.
We were reminded recently of the inherent limitations on the accuracy of asbestos sampling. The lessons learned (again) were: (1) that the appropriate scope of pre-acquisition environmental diligence should be carefully considered, and (2) that laboratory analysis should not automatically be accepted as accurate.
Scott Pruitt, the fourteenth Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently appeared on The New York Times' The Daily podcast, where he outlined his vision for the EPA, discussed his view of its societal role, and answered questions about specific goals he sought to accomplish during his time at the helm of the EPA.
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.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a press release announcing its internal review of the expedited review process for the Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit (ESCGP-2). At the same time, DEP made available an Internal Review document discussing its audit of the expedited review process.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has reissued the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges of Stormwater Associated with Industrial Activity (PAG-03). The reissued PAG-03 contains significant new responsibilities for permit holders including additional best management practices (BMPs) and stormwater sampling obligations that were not required under the previous version of PAG-03. Additional changes to the reissued PAG-03 involve eligibility for a General Permit; self-monitoring, reporting and recordkeeping; and site inspections.
On September 28, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion striking down additional provisions of Act 13 of Feb. 14, 2012, P.L. 87 (â€œAct 13â€) in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The decision impacts key aspects of oil and gas operations and presents further challenges to the industry's development throughout the Commonwealth.
Feds Say All Proposed Federal Actions, No Matter What Size, Should Quantify Expected Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Last week, in its latest action to combat climate change, the Obama Administration finalized guidance directing federal agencies to perform quantitative analyses of greenhouse gas emissions in connection with all actions that may impact the environment. The guidance, issued by the White House Council of Environmental Quality, sets forth procedures for federal agencies to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act as they evaluate GHG emissions associated with "proposed federal actions."
Post & Schell's Environmental and White Collar Groups examine how the recent VW emissions scandal comes at a time when the DOJ's intention to prosecute high-level executives for corporate wrongdoing, as outlined in the Yates Memo, may face its first true test.