News

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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Vanderbilt Law Student Wins 2013 Hastings Competition

Wyatt Sassman, a third-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School, has won first place in the TBA Environmental Law Section’s 2013 Jon E. Hastings Memorial Award Writing Competition. His article “Administrative Compliance Orders and Due Process after Sackett” looks at the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which allowed an Idaho couple to challenge an EPA order requiring restoration of a wetland before the agency enforced the order with penalties. Sassman argues three points: that the court disregarded precedent and legislative history in finding for the Sacketts, that administrative orders do not violate due process rights, and that federal agencies should be free to use such orders without judicial interference. He will collect a cash award and his article will be published in an upcoming section newsletter.

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Water Border Fight Makes National News

The ongoing fight over the border between Tennessee and Georgia near the edge of the Tennessee River, is making national news. An article streaming on the Wall Street Journal website looks at the history of the dispute and the Georgia lobbyist who is making the border fight his own personal crusade.

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Georgia May Sue for Access to Tennessee River

Georgia legislators passed a resolution authorizing the state’s attorney general to sue Tennessee if it does not voluntarily give up a 1.5-square-mile parcel of land along the Nickajack Reservoir in order to access water from the Tennessee River. The debate over the land has been an issue since 1818 when surveyors incorrectly mapped out the border between the states and placed it too far south, according to Georgia lawmakers. The Tennessean has the story.

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New CLE Covers Zoning, Planning, Land Use

A new CLE course scheduled for Thursday will cover a broad range of municipal land use issues, including zoning, planning and boards of zoning appeal. The course, presented by private and government lawyers, emphasizes the importance of understanding Tennessee case law and statutes that govern the frequently difficult and lengthy development process. In many cases, politics also plays a role in this practice area as clients, communities and various levels of government are involved or impacted. Speakers will offer perspectives from both sides of the fence. Learn more or register online.

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Haslam, Others Reject Georgia Effort to Access Water

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam quickly rejected Georgia’s latest effort to move the state border and gain access to water from the Tennessee River, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Haslam, through a spokesman, said he has no interest in going along with Georgia’s latest legislative attempt to access the river. Bill Johnson, the new CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, also weighed in saying the TVA board of directors would have considerable input on the issue since federal law gives the agency authority over the river. He also raised the specter of years of environmental litigation over permits. And at least one state lawmaker from Chattanooga indicated his willingness to let Georgia sue. "Well, they've threatened to take us to court, so I guess we'll let the AG's office take care of it and go to court with them," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.

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Georgia Offers Tennessee a Deal on Water Access

Georgia lawmakers are moving closer to final passage of a resolution seeking to redraw the state line with Tennessee in hopes of gaining access to water from the Tennessee River. The Georgia Senate voted 48-2 on Monday to ask Tennessee to transfer a thin strip of land leading to the river southwest of Chattanooga as a compromise. But it also approved a provision directing the Georgia attorney general to sue for the entire area in dispute if no agreement is reached with Tennessee by the last day of next year’s General Assembly session. The Georgia House approved a similar bill last month but now must take up the Senate-passed version, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The May 2008 edition of the Tennessee Bar Journal took an extensive look at the issue.

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Vandy Law Hosts Fracking Lecture

Leading energy law and land use expert Hannah Wiseman will speak Thursday about fracking at Vanderbilt Law School. The talk is titled “Natural Gas Fracturing, Federalism Debates and the Regulatory Divide” and will explore the recent, rapid expansion of oil and gas development in the United Sates, driven large hydraulic fracturing and drilling in shale formations, and the legal issues that arise in its wake. The event is free and open to the public.

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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 2012 or 2013. 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. Rules and announcement are available online. For more information contact Lynn Pointer.

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Captured Oil in BP Spill Not Part of Penalties

BP and the federal government have agreed that 34 million gallons of oil captured before it could enter Gulf waters during the massive 2010 spill will not count toward the oil giant’s civil penalties. While the Justice Department settled criminal charges in November, the first phase of the trial regarding the government’s civil claims will begin Feb. 25 to determine the cause of the well blowout and assign percentage fault to the companies involved in the drilling project that went wrong. WMC News Channel 5 has the story.

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Judge Approves Transocean Guilty Plea

A federal judge has approved Transocean Deepwater Ltd’s criminal plea as part of a $1.4 billion settlement with the Justice Department over liability for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the National Law Journal reports. The company pleaded guilty on Jan. 3 to one misdemeanor count of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by contributing to the discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and agreed to pay $400 million in criminal penalties.

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