News

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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Judge Accepts BP Plea Deal

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance of New Orleans approved a plea deal in which BP agreed to pay $4 billion to resolve criminal charges regarding the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill, despite emotional testimony and letters from dozens of people who objected to the deal. The guilty plea includes 11 counts of manslaughter for the deaths of several workers. The ABA Journal reports that BP still may face pollution fines of up to $21 billion as litigation continues over whether spilled oil collected in the cleanup efforts should count toward the barrel count used to assess Clean Water Act fines.

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Court Won’t Hear Challenge to Clean Air Regs

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a challenge to new clean air requirements limiting sulfur dioxide emissions, The Memphis Daily News reports. Several corporations, industrial associations and state governments have complained that the Environmental Protection Agency’s required emission levels are lower than mandated by law to protect public health. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused to overturn the EPA's decision and the high court justices refused to reconsider that ruling.

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Environmental Law CLE on Tap Thursday

The TBA Environmental Law Section is hosting it annual CLE on Thursday beginning at 9 a.m. Registration opens at 8 a.m. The seminar -- titled Environmental Considerations in Mergers and Acquisitions – is designed for corporate and commercial practitioners as well as environment lawyers, who focus on environmental issues associated with the merger or consolidation of entities, and/or asset transfers that include real estate. The seminar will address applicable environmental challenges from the perspectives of the surviving entity, seller and buyer. Speakers include Catherine Anglin, David L. Henry, Rick L. Hitchcock, Darlene T. Marsh, G Scott Thomas, Devin Wells and Randy Womack. Learn more or register here.

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DOJ Reaches $1.4 Billion Gulf Spill Settlement

The Justice Department has reached a $1.4 billion settlement with Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and spawning a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the $1 billion in civil penalties and $400 million in criminal penalties, the Switzerland-based company must plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act and implement a series of operational safety and emergency response improvements to its rigs.

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Reeves, Max to Mediate TVA Ash-Spill Case

Knoxville attorney and former Tennessee Bar Association President Pamela Reeves has been appointed by U.S District Judge Tom Varlan to jointly mediate the class-action lawsuit linked to the 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant. Some 872 plaintiffs are suing TVA over damages that are allegedly related to the spill, which fouled the Emory River and the surrounding Roane County countryside with 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash. Reeves and Florida lawyer Rodney Max, who will serve as joint mediator, were both recommended by the parties in the case, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

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Judge Dismisses Suit Against NFS

A federal judge dismissed an 18-month old class action lawsuit against Erwin-based Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) and other defendants, the Johnson City Press reports. Filed in June 2011, the suit alleged injuries, property damage and emotional distress suffered by 19 plaintiffs caused by “repeated releases of hazardous and radioactive substances” by NFS.

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Environmental Groups Prepare to Sue TVA

According to the Tennessean, several environmental advocacy groups are preparing a federal lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for planning to replace an endangered fish nursery at the Gallatin Fossil Plant with a pollution control facility. The TVA last month announced its plan to remove the Cumberland River Aquatic Center from the Gallatin site to make room for a 15-story coal-ash dump as part of a $1 billion plan to overhaul the plant’s pollution equipment. The Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council and other groups allege the move will harm endangered fish and mussels, violating the Endangered Species Act. 

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BP to Pay $4.5 billion in Gulf Oil Spill Settlement

BP will pay $4.5 billion to resolve federal criminal and securities allegations in connection with the Gild oil spill, the ABA Journal reports. As part of the plea deal, BP will plead guilty to 14 criminal charges, including 11 felony counts related to loss of life in the oil spill and one felony count for obstruction of Congress. According to the Wall Street Journal, the settlement includes $1.26 billion in criminal fines, and for BP to pay $2.394 billion to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of the Sciences.

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Fillers' Finances to be Reviewed by Court

Don Fillers, who was sentenced to a four-year prison sentence in a well-publicized asbestos case, still has a court-appointed attorney although documents presented to the court show he purchased more than $2 million in property and valued his home at $403,000, the Chattanoogan reports. Federal Magistrate Judge Bill Carter said there were still unanswered questions about Fillers' finances, and set another hearing for Tuesday. Fillers is scheduled to go into federal prison Friday.

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EPA Approves TVA’s Plan for Coal Ash Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plan for the final cleanup phase of the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill. According to Knoxnews, officials from the TVA, EPA, and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will make a presentation and answer questions at a public meeting next Thursday in Kingston.

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Father of Environmental Justice to Speak Tonight at UT

The University of Tennessee Knoxville chapter of Amnesty International will host Robert D. Bullard, the “father of environmental justice,” Knoxnews reports. One of the nations top scholars on environment justice, racism, and corporate accountability, Bullard will speak tonight at 7 p.m in the University Center Auditoirium. It is free and open to the public.

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Flood Lawsuits Likely Hard to Win

Several Middle Tennessee companies are suing for more than $350 million in damages from the May 2010 flood, but they have “a tough road ahead of them,” according to Paul Figley, a law professor who previously was a top Department of Justice official. Gaylord Entertainment Corp., Gibson Guitar, Nissan North America and several other companies sued the government earlier this year accusing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Weather Service of acting negligently before and during the flood. The government has asked the judge to dismiss the suits, claiming immunity under a 1928 law and the “discretionary function exception,” a provision in tort law that gives agencies legal protection when they make discretionary decisions based on policy considerations. The Tennessean has more.

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Tennessee Water Laws and Regulations

This article is reprinted by permission of the author and first appeared in a program presented by HalfMoon LLC on September 27, 2011. 

Understanding Tennessee Surface Water and Groundwater Rights and Regulations

By:  Robert M. Steele, Esq.
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

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3 Sentenced in Clean Air Act Violation

Three men who conspired to violate the Clean Air Act when they demolished, without taking precautions, a Chattanooga factory containing large amounts of asbestos, were sentenced Monday in federal court. U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier sentenced David Wood, James Mathis and Donald Fillers and the Watkins Street Project LLC for their roles in the conspiracy. They were sentenced between 18 and 48 months and required to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution. “These sentences send a strong message that criminal violations of environmental laws designed to protect human health from exposure to hazardous substances, such as asbestos, will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Killian. NewsChannel9 reports

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Appeals Court: Army Corps Not at Fault for Katrina Flooding

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier ruling that found the Army Corps of Engineers to be at fault for Hurricane Katrina's catastrophic flooding. In 2005, flooding from the hurricane because of an improperly maintained shipping channel, devastated New Orleans and killed 1,400 citizens. The court claims federal law gives the corps immunity against flood-related lawsuits, and also could make it  difficult to force the government to pay damages for future mishaps.. Read more about the ruling at WRCBtv.com.

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U.S. Sets Out to Prove Gross Negligence by BP

The U.S. Justice Department is urging a federal judge to ignore BP’s assertion that the Gulf Coast's natural resources are making a "robust recovery" from its massive 2010 oil spill. In a court filing Friday, government lawyers also renewed their vow to prove at trial that BP engaged in gross negligence or willful misconduct leading up to the deadly rig explosion that spawned the nation's worst offshore oil spill. WRCB TV reports that the combative language is a sign that BP and the Justice Department are not close to a settlement that would resolve the federal government's claims against the oil giant before a trial scheduled for next year.

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Judge: TVA Negligent, Responsible for Massive Spill

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan ruled on Thursday that the Tennessee Valley Authority was responsible for a massive coal ash spill at its Kingston facility in 2008. He said the TVA should have investigated and remedied problems at the site prior to the "catastrophic failure." Total cleanup costs, which are ongoing, are estimated to exceed $1 billion. Varlan said in a written opinion that the TVA was negligent in its conduct and will be liable for damages that will have to be proven in the next phase of the ongoing lawsuits. Related litigation involves more than 60 cases and more than 800 plaintiffs. ABC News has more

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Belmont Law Moves Home

Belmont University opened its new Randall and Sadie Baskin Center in a ribbon-cutting celebration this morning attended by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and many of the donors who helped finance the 75,000-square-foot building that houses Belmont University’s College of Law. The center contains more than a dozen classrooms, a trial courtroom, an appellate courtroom, a two-story law library and more than 20 faculty offices. Belmont is seeking LEED certification for the building, which also uses a geothermal system to provide heating and cooling. The new law school welcomed its second class this fall, and is in the process of seeking American Bar Association accreditation.

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Gibson to Pay in Lacey Act Violations

Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp. will pay a $300,000 fine and make a $50,000 community-service payment for conservation in response to federal allegations that the company used illegally obtained ebony wood in the manufacture of its products. The U.S. Justice Department said in a news release that the settlement resolves a criminal investigation into allegations that the company violated the Lacey Act by illegally purchasing and importing ebony wood from Madagascar and rosewood and ebony from India. The agreement was announced today by Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Jerry Martin and Dan Ashe, director of the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The criminal enforcement agreement defers prosecution for criminal violations. The Blog of Legal TImes has more

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Washington Co. to Begin Process for Hiring New Judge

At least six people are eying the third General Session judge position in Washington County, including Ken Baldwin, assistant district attorney general for the First Judicial District; Douglas Carter, an attorney in Johnson City; Suzanne Cook, with Hunter, Smith & Davis; Bill Donaldson, assistant public defender for the First Judicial District; Janie Lindamood, an attorney in Johnson City; and Dan Smith, an attorney in Jonesborough. The Johnson City Press reports that county commissioners have voted to appoint an eight-member legal services committee to work out the process for filling the new post, which will help the court take on additional responsibilities, including environmental issues.

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House Panel Debates Changes to Lacey Act

An environmental law that has Nashville-based Gibson Guitar mired in legal trouble was up for debate Tuesday in Washington. A House subcommittee heard arguments for and against the RELIEF Act, which would rewrite the century-old Lacey Act, which only recently began governing the importation of wood. Musical instruments are the concern of the bill’s sponsors, which include Rep. Jim Cooper. The Nashville Democrat says artists fear their guitars could be confiscated when they reenter the U.S. if they can’t document that all of the wood was legally harvested. Nashville Public Radio reports

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Winner Selected for 2012 Jon Hastings Memorial Award Writing Competition

Congratulations to William Airhart, Vanderbilt University Law School (class of 2012) as winner of the Jon Hastings Memorial Award Writing Competition.  This writing competition sponsored by the TBA Environmental Law Section is in memory of Jon Hastings, one of the founding members of the Section. William's paper is titled "After AEP: The Climate Change Tort and the Social Cost of Carbon."

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