SCOTUS Holds that Challenges to the Definition of Waters of the United States Must Be Heard in the U.S. District Courts

Benjamin Stonelake

In a unanimous decision and opinion delivered by Justice Sotomayor on January 22, 2018, in National Association of Manufacturers v. U.S. Department of Defense, the United States Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) held that challenges to the June 29, 2015 regulation defining the term “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) must be filed in the federal district courts. The Court reasoned that the plain text of the judicial review provisions set forth in 33 U.S.C. §1369(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act does not authorize direct challenges to this regulation (the 2015 WOTUS Rule) in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, therefore, such challenges must be filed in the federal district courts. Continue reading “SCOTUS Holds that Challenges to the Definition of Waters of the United States Must Be Heard in the U.S. District Courts”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Improperly Expands the Definition of “Commonwealth” in Article I Section 27 of the Constitution to Include Local Governments

Jeremy A. Mercer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently expanded the definition of “Commonwealth” in the Pennsylvania Constitution to include local governments but without any reasoned support. See Pa. Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commw., 161 A.3d 911, 931 n.23 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF”). In a footnote, which arguably is dicta, the Supreme Court said that the trustee referenced in the “Natural Resources and the Public Estate” provision of Pennsylvania’s Constitution (Article I, Section 27) includes local governments despite the Constitution’s express selection of the “Commonwealth” as the trustee. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Improperly Expands the Definition of “Commonwealth” in Article I Section 27 of the Constitution to Include Local Governments”

Appellate Division Clears Way for Business Entities to Receive Brownfield Innocent Party Grants When Property Is Transferred among Family Members

Kevin R. Doherty

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently lessened the rigidity by which an innocent purchaser may be eligible for a so-called “Innocent Party Grant” to cover costs associated with the remediation of contaminated property. On September 20, 2017, the Court in Cedar Knolls 2006, LLC v. New Jersey Dep’t of Envtl. Prot.[1] reversed the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (“NJDEP”) attempt to limit Innocent Party Grants to natural persons, and found that an LLC may qualify as a “person” under the Brownfield and Contaminated Site Remediation Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10B-1, et seq. (“Brownfield Act”). Continue reading “Appellate Division Clears Way for Business Entities to Receive Brownfield Innocent Party Grants When Property Is Transferred among Family Members”

It’s Catching On—Hydraulic Fracturing Is Not an Abnormally Dangerous Activity in Pennsylvania

Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette, and Elizabeth E. Klingensmith

Yes, a federal court made the determination in 2014 and 2015 that hydraulic fracturing associated with unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania is not an abnormally dangerous activity that is subject to strict liability. See Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., 38 F. Supp. 3d 518 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (Report & Recommendation issued in January; adopted in April); see also Kamuck v. Shell Energy Holdings GP, LLC, Civil No. 4:11-CV-1425, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37538 (M.D. Pa. March 25, 2015) (concluding hydraulic fracturing is not abnormally dangerous or subject to strict liability). In the Ely decision, the court undertook an extensive review of the factual record developed after years of discovery and concluded that there simply was no support for a view that hydraulic fracturing was an abnormally dangerous activity. Now, a Pennsylvania appellate court has reached the same conclusion—twice. Continue reading “It’s Catching On—Hydraulic Fracturing Is Not an Abnormally Dangerous Activity in Pennsylvania”

Under Scrutiny: PA Superior Court Splits from Own Precedent and Allows Unilateral Oil & Gas Lease Severance in Montgomery

Jeremy A. Mercer

Lessees of oil and gas leases in Pennsylvania who have been assigned or are assigning less than all of the geologic strata under lease should give careful attention to whether those leases have been severed vertically by unilateral actions. A lease may not be held by production if that production is in a geologic strata not included in the assignment of rights. This article explains a recent decision on the issue.

By its 2-to-1 non-precedential decision that an oil and gas lease unilaterally can be severed horizontally and vertically, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania appears to have split from its own published precedent and created new law in Pennsylvania—leaving lessees in limbo, possibly giving unscrupulous lessors a unilateral tool to terminate oil and gas leases, and ultimately harming both lessors and lessees in the process. Continue reading “Under Scrutiny: PA Superior Court Splits from Own Precedent and Allows Unilateral Oil & Gas Lease Severance in Montgomery

Not So Fast—Your Oil and Gas Lease Primary Term May Be Longer Than You Thought

Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette, and Elizabeth E. Klingensmith

Under Pennsylvania law, a defined primary term of an oil and gas lease may actually be longer than that stated term of year. In a September 12, 2017, unreported decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court remanded a case to the trial court for consideration of whether a “limitation of forfeiture” provision, which required notice and opportunity to cure, extended the primary term by the length of the cure period. See L.D. Oil & Gas Enters., Inc. v. Loop, No. 1883 WDA 2016, 2017 WL 4001655 (Pa. Super. Ct. Sep. 12, 2017). In overturning the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings to the lessor, the Superior Court returned the case to allow the trial court to take parol evidence of the impact of the “limitation of forfeiture” provision on the length of the primary term. Continue reading “Not So Fast—Your Oil and Gas Lease Primary Term May Be Longer Than You Thought”

CONSTITUTION PIPELINE: The 2d Circuit Reaffirms a State’s Right to Veto a FERC-Approved Interstate Pipeline Project

Frederick M. Lowther

On August 18, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a long-awaited decision in Constitution Pipeline Company LLC v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation et al., Docket No. 16-1568 (“Constitution”). At issue—once again—was whether a single State (in this case, New York) has the power under §401 of the Federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §1341 (“CWA”), to deny a water quality certification for an interstate pipeline previously certificated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), when the effect of the denial is to veto a pipeline project that would serve multiple States. In 2008, the 2d Circuit determined that such a veto power exists. Islander East Pipeline Co. v. McCarthy, 525 F.3d 141 (2d Cir, 2008) (“Islander East”). Although the factual situation in Constitution differs in some respects (noted below) from that in Islander East, the end result is the same: if a State determines that a FERC-approved pipeline is not consistent with its water quality standards approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Court finds (as it did here) that the determination was not arbitrary and capricious (i.e., is supported by “sufficient evidence to provide rational support” for the denial, Constitution, sl. op. at 24), the federally-approved interstate pipeline cannot proceed. Continue readingCONSTITUTION PIPELINE: The 2d Circuit Reaffirms a State’s Right to Veto a FERC-Approved Interstate Pipeline Project”