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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Benzene exposure cases a reminder of industry’s potential impact on public health

Industry’s which involve highly toxic chemicals have a huge responsibility, not only with respect to the environment, but also with respect to government regulators and the public. Carelnessness in industry can, of course, result in serious environmental pollution and adverse health effects.

Benzene exposure is one of the possible effects of environmental contamination which can result in particularly serious consequences for exposure victims. Benzene exposure, as some readers may know, increases the risk of cancer and other illnesses among those exposed to it, including leukemia. 

Clean Air Act provides basis for president’s precarious environmental legacy

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a regulation passed by the Obama administration aimed at reducing toxic emissions from coal-fueled power plants. While the regulation has been hailed as a major achievement for clean air, it has also been attacked by Republicans and industry leaders as more costly to the coal industry than is warranted by the benefits.

The legal issue on appeal concerns the costs of implementing the regulation, and whether or not the Clean Air Act requires that those costs be taken into consideration when passing new regulations. Under the law, regulations are required to be “appropriate and necessary,” but the exact interpretation of this phrase is in dispute. 

Shell effort to preempt legal challenges to Alaskan drilling plans fails

The ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a recent case that Shell Oil Company is unable to preemptively sue environmental advocacy groups for putting up legal barriers to offshore drilling in Alaska. The oil giant has reportedly spent billions of dollars on leases and other legal requirements for oil drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and hopes to begin drilling in 2015.

In 2012, Shell filed several separate lawsuits seeking a declaratory judgment against numerous environmental groups likely to challenge its drilling plans. The recent circuit court decision is for one of those cases. The other lawsuits have been dismissed, though one is currently pending appeal. 

Anadarko settlement agreement receives final approval

Back in April, Texas oil company Anadarko Petroleum Corp. reached a settlement with Tronox Inc., a company which spun off Kerr-McGee Corp. in 2005 before the latter was acquired by Anadarko in 2006. The settlement concerned billions of dollars connected to environmental cleanup and public health issues which originated from before the Anadarko acquisition.

After its spin-off, Tronox filed for bankruptcy and its creditors—including the U.S. Department of Justice—sued Kerr-McGee and Anadarko over massive environmental liabilities. A total of $25 billion was sought in order to fund the cleanup of over 2,000 contaminated sites nationwide. The case got particularly messy—no pun intended—when Tronox creditors sought to show that the company’s spinoff was a fraudulent transfer, which is illegal under bankruptcy law. 

State of Georgia seeks updated water control plans from Army Corps of Engineers

Lake Altoona, as Georgia readers know, is a reservoir in the care of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. The Corps of Engineers is currently involved in litigation with the state of Georgia, which has filed a lawsuit in federal court in an effort to get water control plans and manuals for Lake Altoona updated. The state is seeking updates not only for Lake Altoona, but also for other reservoirs in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin. The Atlanta Regional Commission and the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority have also filed lawsuits for the same purpose.

The problem, from the state’s perspective, is that the circumstances and issues that were pressing at the time the water control manual was written 50 years ago have changed. Because of this, there are concerns about the extent to which Lake Altoona can be considered a reliable source of water. The state is taking the issue of water allocation seriously as a risk to the health and safety of Georgia citizens. 

Article downplays BP role in Gulf pollution, critics lash out

Toxic tort litigation is an important area of personal injury law which allows those who are exposed to toxic chemicals to recover for the resulting ill effects of those chemicals. Toxic torts can arise in a variety of circumstances, including industrial sites, military bases, and even our own homes. Toxic tort litigation frequently involves environmental factors, particularly pertaining to the purity of drinking water sources.

The biggest example of a toxic tort in recent years, of course, is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. That accident, massive as it was, has resulted in a great deal of litigation, not only for those who were injured or killed in the accident, but also for those who suffered economic losses caused by the accident. 

Report lists biggest challenges for clean water in Georgia

Water contamination is an important issue in the state of Georgia. As evidence of this, the Georgia Water Coalition recently released a list identifying the 12 biggest threats to the integrity of Georgia’s water resources. The list, it has been pointed out, does not simply deal with Georgia’s most polluted waters, but rather the most significant threats to maintaining clean waters throughout the state.

The list includes things like: weakened state agency allows industries to foul the Chattahoochee River; delayed state cleanup plan allows power company to continue polluting the Coosa River; and nuclear reactors suck water and life out of the Savannah River. Many of the threats are connected to a crisis of enforcement or the need to reform existing environmental law. 

Families defeated in military toxic waste exposure case

A big case against the U.S. Marine Corps involving allegations of groundwater contamination at a base in North Carolina recently came to an end. The case was a defeat for families who had sued the federal government for its role in causing illness due to the way it handled toxic waste at Camp Lejeune. Apparently, family of military personnel at the camp had higher cancer rates than personnel at other bases without contamination over a 31-year period of time.

Lawsuits on the issue were actually consolidated in federal court in Georgia back in 2011. The judge in charge of that case rejected the government’s argument that the families were not able to file lawsuits on the issue due to statutory time limits. Last week, that decision was reversed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court. 

Some Georgia lawmakers concerned about proposed environmental regulations

Lawmakers in Georgia are currently debating the potential impact of environmental rules proposed by federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The rules are aimed at allowing the agencies to better enforce the Clean Water Act of 1972, which has the general purpose of controlling pollution and setting water quality standards.

The proposal specifically clarifies that federal regulations under the Clean Water Act apply not only to large bodies of water, but even to streams, swamps and ditch-waters connected to or near navigable waterways. 

BP claims administrator criticized for inefficiency in settling oil spill claims

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, as our readers are aware, set off a massive amount of litigation not only over injuries and deaths of workers and those affected by the toxic spill, but also by those who were financially impacted by the incident.  British Petroleum, the primary party responsible for the spill, has been hit with hundreds of lawsuits in connection with the spill and will spend billions to resolve claims.

According to those familiar with the ongoing litigation, the settlement administrator handling claims against BP connected to the Deepwater Horizon spill has not been reaching settlements at a fast enough pace. Since the current administrator took over the process, the rate of settlements has slowed down significantly. At the current rate of settlement, sources say, it will take another 12 years for BP to process its backlog of claims. 

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