News

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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Memphis Law Student Wins 2014 Hastings Competition

The TBA Environmental Law Section recently announced that William McDonald "Mac" Plosser, a third-year student at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, is the winner of the 2014 Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award Writing Competition. The writing competition is sponsored by the Environmental Law Section in memory of Jon Hastings, one of the founding members of the section. Plosser's paper "Into The Fracking Fray: Advocating For A Balanced Approach To Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation In Tennessee" addresses the recent expansion of hydrofracturing to extract natural gas nationwide and how that issue has been addressed in Tennessee. In response to conflicts between local and state control in other states, the author proposes a balanced role that preserves both local zoning power and state regulatory authority.

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Deadline Near for Environmental Law Writing Competition

April 1 is the deadline for entering the TBA Environmental Law Section's Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award writing competition for law students. Entries may be submitted by law students enrolled in a Tennessee law school in 2013 or 2014. The competition is held in memory of one of the section’s outstanding founding members and has a cash prize pool of $1,200. This writing contest is a juried competition for the best legal writing on a topic of Tennessee or federal environmental law. The competition Rules and Announcement are available online. For more information contact Lynn Pointer

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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Environmental Law Writing Competition Underway

The TBA Environmental Law Section has announced the seventh annual Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award writing competition for law students enrolled in a Tennessee law school in 2013 or 2014. 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 April 1, 2014. The competition rules and announcement are available here in downloadable format.

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Magazine Predicts 12 ‘Hottest’ Practice Areas

The September issue of The National Jurist predicts the 12 "hottest" practice areas for the next decade. Those deemed to be “super hot” were health care, administrative, intellectual property and family law. Food and drug law, tax litigation, privacy law and compliance law were ranked as “hot.” And employment, energy, manufacturing and immigration law were judged “somewhat hot.”

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BP, DOJ Offer Competing Gulf Spill Estimates

BP and the federal government have offered conflicting estimates of how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the blowout of the company's Macondo well triggered a deadly explosion, WDEF News 12 reports. In a court filing yesterday, BP urged U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to use an estimate of 2.45 million barrels in determining how much oil spilled into the Gulf and calculating any Clean Water Act fines. Department of Justice experts estimate around 4.2 millions barrels in the spill. The second phase of the trial to determine how much more money BP and its contractors owe for the disaster resumes Sept. 30.

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Nashville Lawyer to Lead ABA’s Environmental Law Section

Stites & Harbison attorney William L. Penny is the new chair of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, the Herald Online reports. A longtime Nashville resident, Penny is the first Tennessean to lead the group though he has served as vice chair, chair-elect and budget officer. Penny has practiced environmental law and litigation for more than 30 years and has served as general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation. He also was the first chair of the TBA’s Environmental Law Section and the first chair of the Nashville Bar Association’s Environmental Law Committee.

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BP Tries Again to Block Spill Claims

BP has once again asked a federal judge to halt payments from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement fund, citing what it called fresh evidence of fraud in the claims process. According to the National Law Journal, the company said it learned within the past week about a potential conflict involving two members of the claims administrator’s appeals panel who were reviewing payments while their law firms were submitting claims. BP also asserted potential fraud, citing a July 15 tip from its recently established fraud hotline that an employee at the claims center in Mobile, Ala., had been assisting family members in submitting “fraudulent subsistence claims” in exchange for a share of the payments.

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Halliburton to Plead Guilty in Gulf Spill

Oilfield services giant Halliburton will plead guilty to destroying computer test results that had been sought as evidence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, WCYB reports. Company officials threw out test results that showed "little difference" between the number of devices Halliburton said was needed to center the cement casing in the well at the heart of the disaster and the number well owner BP installed, according to court papers. Halliburton has agreed to pay the maximum fines available, be put on probation for three years and cooperate with federal agencies that are still investigating the spill, the Justice Department said in a statement announcing Thursday's agreement. Halliburton is the last of the three major players to admit criminal wrongdoing in the 2010 blowout and resulting oil spill. BP has admitted to manslaughter and 13 other criminal counts and agreed to pay $4 billion in fines, while Transocean admitted to violating the Clean Water Act and paid $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties.

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Court Strikes Key Part of Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that established a formula used to determine which jurisdictions must get clearance before making changes to their voting practices. In a 5-4 decision, the court said the formula is unconstitutional given the advances in voting rights in the covered states. The justices said Congress needs to revisit the issue, Scotusblog reports, and if it wants to single out certain states for extra scrutiny, it must do so "on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions."

• The court also ruled in an adoption case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act finding that the biological father, who is part Cherokee, did not have an automatic right his child because he was estranged from the biological mother, provided no support during the pregnancy and disclaimed any interest in raising the girl. The court ruled 5-4 that the law was intended to protect Native American children from abusive adoption or foster care practices that removed them from existing families, not every removal proceeding involving an Indian child.

• Finally, the court today rejected a Florida Supreme Court decision to dismiss a case from a landowner seeking to develop a portion of his wetlands property. When officials refused to approve Coy Koontz's project unless he made certain concessions -- including spending money to improve public lands elsewhere -- Koontz sued under a state law permitting him to seek damages. The state Supreme Court held that he did not have a claim based on two previous U.S. Supreme Court cases. The high court rejected the state’s interpretation of those cases but did not rule on whether Koontz’s claim had merit.

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Jury Finds Y-12 Protesters Guilty

The Y-12 protesters accused of interfering with national security when they broke into the nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge in July have been found guilty, the Johnson City Press reports. An 83-year-old nun and two fellow protesters were charged with sabotaging the plant and damaging federal property.

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