Ruling

Mon, 2014-06-30 12:15Sharon Kelly
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In Blow to Oil Industry, New York's Top Court Upholds Local Fracking Bans

New York's highest state court ruled today that local governments have the legal authority to use zoning to bar oil and gas drilling, fracking and other heavy industrial sites within their borders. In a 5-2 decision, affirming the rulings of three lower courts, the justices dismissed challenges to fracking bans created by two towns, Middlefield and Dryden.

The case has been closely watched by the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus region and nationwide. Over 170 towns, villages and cities in New York state have crafted local moratoria or bans on fracking. Dozens more towns are expected to enact moratoria in the wake of this ruling, according to Earthworks, one of the public interest groups whose attorneys worked on the case.

Nationwide, nearly 500 local governments have enacted measures against fracking, according to Food and Water Watch which tracks local control actions, including towns in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California, each of which have been the focus of recent shale rushes.

The oil and gas industry had argued that allowing local control over fracking risked creating a patchwork of rules in different municipalities. Environmental groups countered that the rights of local communities to control development within their borders trumped those concerns, and that local governments had the clear legal authority to decide how development could proceed.

“On the one hand, you're saying yes, we should have a comprehensive strategy to deal with such an important issue to our state – energy,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman explained when the cases were argued before the court on June 3. “And on the other hand, municipalities believe (they can) determine how they're going to live. They want some voice in how they live.”

Today, less than a month later, the court's majority decided in favor of local control. “The towns both studied the issue and acted within their home rule powers in determining that gas drilling would permanently alter and adversely affect the deliberately-cultivated, small-town character of their communities,” the New York Court of Appeals wrote in its majority ruling.

Tue, 2013-06-11 13:00Farron Cousins
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D.C. Court Rules Against Environmental Transparency, Threatening Public Health and Democracy

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. The case revolved around a classified document related to an FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that contained information about environmental and public health and safety concerns.

The suit was filed by EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), with CIEL President Carroll Muffett issuing the following statement after the ruling:  “It is with great irony that at a time when reports about government intrusion into individual privacy are escalating by the day, the U.S. government would go to such lengths to protect the confidentiality of its trade negotiations—the terms of which will have real impacts on its citizens. By denying the public access to these negotiations, the US has created a fundamental barrier to the development of democracy. Most troubling, we have already seen the US aggressively pushing information in a similar black box in other trade negotiations, like the recently announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

EarthJustice has more:

Thu, 2013-01-31 15:26Farron Cousins
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Record Fines For BP In Gulf Disaster Deal

After a ruling earlier this week by a federal judge in New Orleans, BP now holds the record for the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history.  The penalty, totaling $4 billion, is strictly related to the criminal conduct of the company that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of the deal, BP agreed to plead guilty to a total of 14 counts of criminal conduct, which includes charges of felony manslaughter. However, as CNN.com points out, the charges are against the company, not any individuals involved, so prison time for those responsible will not be part of the deal.

The $4 billion criminal penalty does not affect the settlement deals for the victims along the Gulf Coast, nor does it include any environmental fines for the company. Those are separate cases that are still being worked out, and will result in several billions more in financial penalties for the company.

Fri, 2012-11-09 08:55Farron Cousins
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EPA And TVA Nix Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Efforts

Four years after a coal processing plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) accidentally released tons of toxic coal ash into waterways in Kingston, the cleanup has finally come to an end. 

But just because cleanup efforts have ceased, that does not mean that the pollution problem is gone.

In fact, quite the opposite is true.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a deal with the TVA to allow the company to stop their cleanup efforts and allow “natural river processes” to dispose of the remaining toxic sludge.

Thu, 2012-08-23 03:00Farron Cousins
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US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

Tue, 2011-06-21 11:10Farron Cousins
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Heritage Foundation Wastes No Time Spinning Court Ruling On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against plaintiffs yesterday in a lawsuit (American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut) brought by six states against several utility companies and the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority. The states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) were attempting to force the utility companies to cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the grounds that the emissions were a “public nuisance.” The Court unanimously declared that the judiciary should stay out of the matter because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already has the authority to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act.

President Obama previously stated that he stood with the utility companies in this suit, as well as in a similar suit being decided in a lower court. The utility companies in the suit included Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Southern Co, Excel Energy, and the aforementioned Tennessee Valley Authority.

The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation wasted no time yesterday in claiming that the Court’s ruling was a major blow to environmentalists, and managed to take a cheap shot at some of the liberal members of the court:

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