News

BP to Pay $18.7 Billion for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Officials announced an $18.7 billion settlement with BP today that resolves years of litigation over the deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The rig blast killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the gulf for nearly three months on to the shorelines of several states including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. WREG has more.

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Court: Mississippi Can Pursue Water Suit Against Tennessee

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday granted Mississippi’s request to file a new lawsuit claiming Memphis is stealing its water, keeping alive a legal battle now in its 11th year. Four years ago, the court denied a similar request, the Commercial Appeal reports. The proposed complaint seeks at least $615 million in damages from Memphis, the city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, and the state of Tennessee. The court’s order gives defendants 30 days to respond.

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Court Grants 2, Declines Several for Fall

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a Texas affirmative action case when it returns in the fall. It also may hear challenges to a Texas law requiring certain abortion clinics to close, but gave the clinics a reprieve -- allowing them to stay open -- until a final decision is made. In addition, the justices rejected a number of cases, including a copyright dispute between Google with Oracle, an appeal of Clean Water Act fines imposed on BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and two public corruption cases. WDEF News 12 and Knoxnews have more on those decisions.

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Court Upholds Use of Execution Drug, Suit Against EPA

Before departing Washington, D.C., for its summer recess, Supreme Court justices gathered for one final conference today, which yielded three opinions, all decided by 5-4 votes. In the first opinion, the majority found that use of the execution drug midazolam does not violate the Eighth Amendment, while two dissenting justices said for the first time they think it is "highly likely" the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports. In the other cases, the majority found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have considered costs in the regulation of toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power and that the state of Arizona may use a independent commission to draw congressional districts. The ABA Journal has more on those decisions.

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Chambliss, Bahner is First LEED Gold Certified Law Firm in Tennessee

Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel PC is the only law office in the state to have earned LEED® Gold certification for its commercial interiors, according to a public directory of projects. The LEED rating system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council totes a holistic approach to building design, prioritizing long-term energy-efficiency as well as worker health and productivity. Its offices are located within Chattanooga's Liberty Tower, which recently became the largest LEED® v2009 Gold certified core and shell project in Tennessee.

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Belmont Student Wins 2015 Hastings Writing Competition

The 2015 Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award Writing Competition winner is Patty Whitehead, a third-year law student at Belmont University College of Law. Sponsored by the TBA Environmental Law Section, the Hastings award is a juried competition for the best legal writing on a topic of Tennessee or federal environmental law and is open to law students enrolled in a Tennessee law school. Whitehead's paper "Opportunities for Environmental Justice Review in Title V Permits Under the Tennessee Air Quality Act" addresses disproportionate air quality among minority and low-income communities under Title V permit rules.

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Water Wars Return to the High Court

Water wars return to the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit Mississippi hopes to bring against Tennessee, SCOTUSblog reports. The dispute centers on water pumped by the city of Memphis from an aquifer that spans the states’ borders. Mississippi is seeking rights to the water and $615 million in damages. The U.S. solicitor general weighed in last week with a recommendation that the court deny Mississippi’s motion to file the suit, arguing that until the water is apportioned, there can be no claim of inequitable apportionment.

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6th Circuit Clears Oak Ridge Protestors of Sabotage

An 85-year-old nun and two Army veterans sent to prison after breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge did not commit sabotage and should be re-sentenced, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision overturns the sabotage convictions but upholds convictions for damaging government property. The appeals court directed the trial court to re-sentence the three in light of the reduced charges and the time they have already served. All three have been jailed since May 2013, Reuters reports.

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Environmental Law Section Meets at Gatlinburg Event

The TBA Environmental Law Section held it annual meeting and seminar in Gatlinburg in conjunction with the Environmental Show of the South. The event included presentations by state government officials, company executives, private attorneys and representatives of various interest groups. During the three-day event, the section honored Tony Vick, deputy chief disciplinary counsel at the Board of Professional Responsibility. Vick has spoken at the program for a number of years and is retiring. Read more and see photos from the event.

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Environmental Law Section Honors Vick at Annual Meeting

The Tennessee Bar Association Environmental Law Section's recent annual meeting and seminar in Gatlinburg, April 22-24, was in conjunction with the Environmental Show of the South. This marked the 44th year of the Show of the South and the TBA section has been a part of this program for many years. Section member James C. Wright says the group was honored to have the participation of each of these speakers. The group gave special thanks and well wishes to speaker Tony Vick, who has spoken for several years at this program. Vick was set to retire the week after this presentation.

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Reception Honoring Environmental Commissioner April 23

A reception honoring Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau Jr. will be held Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at the Gatlinburg Overlook, 553 Greystone Heights Rd. The event is sponsored by BDY Natural Sciences Consultants, Richard C, Young and the TBA Environmental Law Section. View the invitation

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Longtime Chattanooga Lawyer Dies

Chattanooga lawyer James “Jim” Walter Gentry Jr. died last Tuesday (Feb. 10) at the age of 86. Gentry began law school at the University of North Carolina but withdrew to join the Marine Corps. After serving (and being wounded) in Korea, he attended Vanderbilt University Law School and completed his law degree in 1956. Gentry moved to Chattanooga and began practicing with several firms before forming Gentry & Boehm, which focused on environmental law cases. The firm dissolved in 1991 and Gentry rejoined Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams, where he remained until retiring. Memorials may be made to the James W. and Margaret A. Gentry Scholarship at the University of the South, the Hospice of Chattanooga or MD Anderson Cancer Center. The funeral service will be private. Chattanoogan.com has more on his life.

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'Trash Board' to Seek AG Opinion On Trustee Fee

The Solid Waste Disposal Commission voted 4-3 on Wednesday to solicit an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General to settle the dispute with the Loudon County Trustee’s Office over the 1 percent commission currently being charged to manage and invest revenues, the News Herald reports. Attorney Kevin Stevens told commissioners that he did not think the 1 percent fee had a legal basis. The panel also voted 6-1 to begin commission meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer, and considered trimming attorney fees and expenses by meeting twice per month but did not take action.

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Groups Join Suit to Protect Nashville Drinking Water

Two environmental organizations are joining the state in a law suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The legal dispute centers on alleged threats that pollutants from TVA's Gallatin coal plant pose to the Cumberland River — the source of drinking water for Nashville and surrounding communities. According to the complaint, the river is jeopardized by arsenic, aluminum, barium, boron, cadmium, mercury and other chemicals that seep from coal ash ponds. Lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center are representing the Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association in the suit filed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation last month. The Tennessean has more.

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Harwell: Gas Tax Increase Unlikely this Year

House Speaker Beth Harwell says that Tennessee lawmakers are unlikely to take up a gas tax increase during this year's legislative session. Speaking to a joint conference by the National Federation of Independent Business and the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association on Tuesday, Harwell said lawmakers are interested in discussing ways to "broaden the base" of transportation funding to make up for losses from vehicles with better fuel mileage and electric cars. The Tennessean has more.

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Billions in Federal Penalties at Issue in BP Spill Trial

The third phase of a trial to establish environmental penalties BP must pay for spilling millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 opened with images of oil-coated birds and testimony about "widespread socio-cultural harm,” the Greeneville Sun reports from the Associated Press. The government wants the oil giant to pay another $13.7 billion for the birds, fish, business climate and social fabric of coastal communities harmed during the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

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State Files Enforcement Action Against TVA

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the Tennessee Attorney General (AG) are filing an enforcement action against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) due to contamination of the “waters of the state” by TVA at its Gallatin Steam Plant, Chattanoogan.com reports. The state is pursuing TVA for violations of the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act and the Tennessee Solid Waste Management Act.

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School of Environmental Law CLE Jan. 22

Learn more about the recent developments in hemp farming, climate change policy, Tennessee agriculture programs and food safety during the School of Environmental Law CLE, Jan. 22 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. in Nashville.

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Environmental Conference Comes to UT Law

The Environmental Law Organization (ELO) is hosting the fifth annual Appalachian Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Tennessee College of Law Oct. 7-19. The conference brings together attorneys, activists, policymakers, funders, philanthropists, students and scientists from across the region to address issues such as fracking, immigration, nuclear weapons, mountain top removal and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. USDA Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development Patrice Kunesh and University of Oregon School of Law Professor John Bonine will be the keynote speakers. For more information contact ELO President Will Mazzota, (865) 414-4734.

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Martineau Elected to Lead Environmental Council

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau has been elected to serve as president of the Environmental Council of the States, the Nashville Post reports. Martineau, a former partner and environmental law attorney with the Nashville office of Waller, was selected by his peers in other states. Martineau says his priorities will include advancing the joint Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state initiative known as E-Enterprise for the Environment, building an enhanced relationship between state environmental agency attorneys and the EPA Office of General Counsel, and advocating for federal funding for state environmental agencies.

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8th Annual Environmental Writing Competition Underway

The TBA Environmental Law Section has announced the eighth annual Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award writing competition for law students enrolled in a Tennessee law school in 2014 or 2015. The competition is held in memory of one of the section's most outstanding founding members and has a cash prize pool of $1,200. It is a juried competition for the best legal writing on a topic of Tennessee or federal environmental law. Entries are due May 1, 2015. The competition rules and announcement are available here in downloadable format.

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Halliburton Reaches $1 Billion Gulf Oil Spill Settlement

Halliburton's agreement to pay more than $1 billion to settle numerous claims involving the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be a way for the company and victims of the spill to avoid years of costly litigation, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports from the Associated Press. A federal judge still has to approve the settlement and rule on the extent to which parties, including Halliburton, were negligent in the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. Those rulings could affect plaintiffs' decisions on whether to participate in the settlement, which was announced Tuesday. 

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BP Says it Overpaid for Claims in Gulf Spill

In a filing Friday, BP asked a federal judge to order restitution — plus interest — to what it says are hundred of millions of dollars in overpayments to some businesses that claimed losses due to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, News 5 reports. BP points to a revised policy for calculating losses that was approved by the court in May and says the court should order recalculation of awards paid prior to that change.

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Shelby County Likely to Expand Environmental Court

An expansion of the Shelby County Environmental Court is “fairly assured” now that the General Sessions’ clerk has agreed to eliminate a position in his office to fund the project, the Commercial Appeal reports. Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter praised the move and outlined his plans for splitting the work of the court into two courtrooms: one that would focus exclusively on environmental cases and one that would handle traffic citations, which the court hears as a division of the General Sessions Criminal Court. Funding also would pay for a referee to stand in for Judge Potter in traffic court so he can focus more on environmental cases.

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Court Upholds EPA Rule on Cross-State Pollution

The Supreme Court yesterday handed the Obama administration an important victory in its effort to reduce power plant pollution in 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states. In a 6-2 decision, the court upheld a rule adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 to limit emissions that create smog and soot that drift into the air above states along the East Coast. The decision caps a decades-long effort by the EPA to find a legally acceptable way to ensure that states don't contribute to pollution problems in downwind states, where environmental officials can do nothing to control it. Opponents argued the rule violated the intent of the Clean Air Act, which envisioned states and the EPA working cooperatively to rein in air pollution. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more.

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