17 Top Controversial Lawsuits That Brought Environmental Triumph

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A Green Vision: Propelling The Environmental Crusade
Economic growth has become the crux of our society and the has become one of the major fundamental to measure growth. Industrial growth and technological advancement has definitely boosted the world’s economy but depleted the earth’s resources. The inception of massive industries that create pollution has given us a glimpse at the downside of industrial growth. With progressive innovations and expansions, the environment has been side-lined and deemed as a byproduct in this journey towards growth.

Environmental concerns are attaining greater press and mass support with every global warming threat and disaster threatening to muddle nature’s equilibrium. With environmentalist teaming up against corporate bigwigs around the country, there is still hope that we can build a safe haven for the future generation.

Here’s a look at some of the lawsuits that managed to tip the spotlight on some of the major environmental issues.

17 Noteworthy Environmental Triumphs

1.The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Case

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill is considered one of the most devastating oil spills in U.S. History. Within days of the explosion that happened on April 20, 2010, BP was spilling gas and oil on the ocean floor about 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

The blast killed about 11 people and about 5 million barrels of oil was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill devastated natural resources and harmed the marine life to a great extent. More than 400 marine species are at risk from the disaster.

The spill as well as the cleanup process that followed is destroying marine life and reducing the oxygen levels in the water.


The explosion on April 20, 2010 lead to extensive marine damage and a major drop in BP’s shares which immediately went down by 2%.

Game Plan

The government correlates the disaster to BP’s negligence and asserts an immediate cleanup initiative.


BP paid $20.8bn settlement in US and took up cleanup responsibility to try and mitigate the damage to the natural resources.

2. Volkswagen Diesel Scam

Volkswagen Diesel Scam disclosed how Volkswagen has been cheating on US government emission tests and regulation for years.

A small research institution caught Volkswagen in the act and EPA and the California Air Resources Board were alerted in May 2014. The carbon emission lead to nitrogen oxides reacting with other compounds. The pollutants can aggravate heart issues, respiratory issues and more.

The pollutants can aggravate heart issues, respiratory issues and more.

After recalling about 500,000 vehicles, the follow-up testing by California and the EPA revealed higher emissions persisted and the diagnostic system wasn’t picking it up.


At first Volkswagen blamed technical malfunction and recalled 500,000 vehicles to address the problem rather than agreeing to the malpractice.

Game Plan

When the threat to withhold environmental certification from the company for 2016 was mentioned, the company came clean about the emission issue.


Civil penalties of about $37,500 can be imposed by the EPA for each violation or a total of $18 billion.

3. The Exxon Valdez Case

On March 24, 1989, Exxon faced a major crisis when about 11 million gallons of oil was spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound with the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.

Some of the species that were affected by the oil spill were the brown bear, sea otters, harbor seals and cormorants and their numbers started dwindling.


After the oil tanker hit reef, it leaked massive crude oil in Prince William Sound. Prince William Sound was abundance of sea life.

Game Plan

The damage was extensive and it also greatly affected the fishing community. Marine life suffocated in the thick oil that engulfed the water. The company was asked to reimburse the governments for their costs and help restore the areas affected by the spill.


Exxon agreed to pay a $125 million fine and $900 million to settle a civil case.

4. Duke Energy Corporation- Coal Ash Pollution

Duke Energy Corporation is one of the largest electrical utility and it’s facing the heat for polluting major rivers with toxic coal ash for several years. The company pleaded guilty in the federal court and agreed to nine violations of the Clean Water Act.

The five power plants in North Carolina are under scrutiny and the company was fined $102 million and placed on five years of probation. Duke dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash in the Dan River. The company will be under strict monitoring to oversee compliance related to coal ash.


Environmentalists have complained that the company has polluted waterways and groundwater with coal ash. Several lawsuits were filed against Duke Energy.

Game Plan

The coal ash pollution did not come to widespread public attention until February 2014, and eventually the company had to give in.


Duke will pay $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for mitigation projects.

5. Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency

Massachusetts and various other states filed a petition to the Environment Protection Agency to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases that add to the negative aspect of global warming through motor vehicles.

The argument of the states to the EPA was that these gases and their emission needed to be regulated by the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act states that all that is harmful to public health and welfare and puts people under risk must be anticipated.

The EPA denied the petition saying that the Clean Air Act does authorize the agency to regulate green house gasses emission. But even if it did, the agency had the discretion not to go ahead until further research.


The green house gases are largely affecting public health and leading to various deadly diseases and according to the Clean Air Act, the emission of such gases needs to be controlled.

Game Plan

The court’s decision was in favor of the states and they remanded the case to the EPA, requiring the agency to review its contention that it has discretion in regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas.


EPA found that six greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.

6. The Erin Brockovich Pacific Gas & Electric Case

Erin Brockovich is an environmental activist who in spite of not having a degree in law managed to file a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California. Her case was built on the basis of contamination of drinking water with Hexavalent Chromium in the town of Hinkley.

The Hinkley compressor station, built in 1952 as a part of a natural-gas pipeline connecting to the San Francisco Bay Area- this facility was the centre of the case because between 1952 and 1966, PG&E used hexavalent chromium in a cooling tower system to fight corrosion.

The wastewater was discharged to unlined ponds at the site, and some percolated into the groundwater, affecting an area near the plant approximately 2 by 1 mile.


On investigation, Erin Brockovich found significant amounts of hexavalent chromium in the water that ran in more than 40 homes of the area.

Game Plan

The cleanup was maintained by the Environment Protection Agency California. The homes were fitted with state monitored filters on their water supply.


In 1996 the case was settled for $333 million. It was the largest amount ever paid in a direct action lawsuit in the history of US.

7. Sierra Club v. Morton Case

The Mineral King valley is an area of natural beauty in Sierra Nevada adjacent to the Sequoia national park. The suit arose when the United States Forest Service permitted development of Mineral King for recreational purpose.

The Forest service invited bids from private developers for the construction and operation of a ski resort due to the increasing popularity of ski vacations. The place would also serve as a summer recreation area.

The Sierra club argued that the various aspects of the proposed development disregarded federal laws and regulations governing the preservation of national parks and forests.


Disney was trying to build a ski resort in the Mineral King valley of Nevada, U.S and they got a lease for 30 years for the same from the US forest service.

Game Plan

Sierra club objected the construction, they tried to get the US forest service to hold public hearings against the development and when that failed they sued for an injunction.


The trial court granted the injunction. Although the Sierra club lost the case, practically they won the war. Mineral King was never developed.

8. The Woburn Water Case

When the cases of leukemia in children began to increase in the Woburn city of Massachusetts, the parents of these kids wanted someone to take responsibility for it. They suspected that the source of this fatal disease was contaminated water.

W.R Grace and Beatrice Foods owned properties near the area where the pollution was suspected. They raised their voice against it but not much progress was achieved. Finally Jan Schlichtmann decided to take up the matter.

Many people discouraged Jan Schlichtmann from taking up the case because they felt it was hopeless, but Schlichtmann knew that something needed to be done so he filed a case against the companies.

An intensive study on wells was done which confirmed that the water was contaminated and caused health problems.


Children were diagnosed with Leukemia one after the other, and the families suspected that the contamination of water was the cause of such health issues.

Game Plan

A lawsuit was filed against companies called W.R Grace and Beatrice Foods for contaminating the water of wells G and H.


After a thorough investigation W.R Grace was found guilty and Beatrice Foods was acquitted. W.R Grace reached a settlement of $ 8 million before the official ruling was made.

9. Koontz vs. St. John’s River Water Management District

Coy. A. Koontz requested a permit from St. John’s river water management to develop 3.7 acres of wetlands; this was more than the original permit allowed. St John’s agreed to issue the permit on one condition that Koontz deed the rest of the area into a conversion area and did some mitigation work on the area surrounding the wetlands.

Koontz agreed to the deed but not to the Mitigation work and so St John’s denied the permit. Koontz argues that the constitutional standards set out in Nollan and Dolan should apply to this case and similar cases so that the government can be held liable for improper taking when the government refuses to issue a land-use permit on the sole basis that the permit applicant did not accede to a financial or public service condition.


Koontz, the petitioner, purchased a vacant lot, which totaled to 14.9 acres. But the water resources act and the wet land protection act gave the water management district the right to control private property in the area and 1.4 acres of Koontz property.

Game Plan

Koontz brought a lawsuit against St. Johns claiming that St. Johns improperly exacted his property.


The court’s decision has the potential to significantly expand property-owners’ ability to challenge local land use regulations and fees.

10. Shell Arctic Drilling

The Arctic region may seem to be one full of frigid waters and glaciers but the new reality is that it is also an oil reserve. The change in the climate is making it possible to find oil in places where the ice is disappearing.

Royal Dutch Shell confirmed that it intends, subject to regulatory approval, to resume its US Arctic drilling program at a cost for 2015 of at least $1billion. Shell preparing to search for Arctic oil prompted anger among environmentalists in the United States.

The environmentalists believe that the Arctic oil should stay in the ground to prevent devastating climatic changes.


The Arctic is already facing major climatic changes and the whole idea of melting Arctic sea ice could serve as an invitation to hunt for more oil was simply too much for concerned citizens.

Game Plan

People changed the game, from grass root opposition to forcing the biggest names in U.S. politics to oppose the projects, to hitting Shell hard at home with legal victories in the Netherlands.

Check mate

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of opposition.

11. Dept. of Transportation v. Public Citizen

President Bush in 2001 announced that he planned to lift a temporary ban on Mexican trucking companies in the United States once the latest regulations were prepared by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association to regulate safety inspections and applications on transport materials. The congress specified certain standards that these vehicles would have to meet.

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association formulated its regulations, it performed an environmental assessment, under the National environmental policy act. The FMCSA did not prepare an environment impact statement. The assessment just focused on the environmental impact from doing more inspection, it did not focus on the impact of more trucks driving on the road.


The ban on Mexican trucking industry was lifted and new regulations were made with an environmental assessment was done on these vehicles, but the impact of more trucks driving on the roads was overlooked.

Game Plan

The public citizens sued to stop the regulations till an environmental impact statement was prepared.

Check mate

The court made a unanimous decision that the FMCSA had no control of the trucks once the regulations were passed and would therefore be unable to act on the findings on an EIS even if it did conduct one.

12. Rapanos v. United States

In 1980, John. A. Rapanos a developer filled 22 acres of wet land that he owns, with sand as a preparation for construction of a mall without permission and permit. He ignored the warnings from the Michigan department of environment quality that the area was protected.

After Rapanos also ignored the cease and desist orders from the environment protection agency, the government brought a civil suit against him.


The case involves developers John A. Rapanos and June Carabell whose separate projects were stopped because of the environmental regulations that make up the Clean Water Act.

Game Plan

The US army corps of engineers fined Rapanos for not having a permit and he was finally convicted in a criminal trial and forced to pay civil penalties.

Check mate

The court failed to get a majority and sent it to the sixth circuit for a different decision and analysis. The court finally suggested that water covered under the act includes any waters that the USACE reasonably concludes.

13. Walmart over PCB contamination at warehouse

Hundreds of workers at an Indianapolis Wal-Mart processing centre were made to evacuate the center because they suspected contamination. Tests were performed on the workers and it was found that the warehouse on North Franklin Road was contaminated with PCBs, chemicals that are linked to cancer. Upon clearing the centre, officials with Excel told employees they would receive their full pay and benefits, but would not return to the centre until they were told they could come back.

Federal and state environmental agencies investigated the discovery of PCB contamination inside a Wal-Mart warehouse after the company shut down. Wal-Mart hired an environmental consulting firm to check out the building on the Far East side of Indianapolis that it leases and is operated by the Excel staffing agency.


After Wal-Mart warehouse was evacuated and tests were performed on workers, it showed that the place was contaminated with PCB which is banned in the US and is a cancer causing agent.

Game Plan

A class action lawsuit was filed against Wal-Mart after PCB was found at the warehouse on North Franklin road. The suit represents 600 employees who were exposed to the damage.

Check mate

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has reached agreement with Wal-Mart to resolve violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

14. Massive California Porter Ranch Gas Leak

Porter Ranch is an affluent neighborhood in California. In October 2015, Southern California workers noticed a leak in one of the over 110 wells at the Aliso Canyon natural-gas storage facility, about one mile north of homes in Porter Ranch. The gas leak began spewing 110,000 pounds of methane per hour. The estimated time to stop this would be 3-4 months. By order of the Los Angeles County Dept of Health, the company relocated thousands of families from the Porter Ranch area.

Methane is odourless, but natural gas has a sulphurous smell. And while health officials say that long-term health effects are unlikely, the smell alone had caused more than 1,600 nearby families to flee.


Since October, residents of Porter Ranch California have been exposed to dangerous contaminants from a massive natural gas leak that continues to seep into the air, causing a catastrophe.

Game Plan

Many families have complained of illness and some had sued the company as well.

Check mate

So far the company has placed 2,258 families in temporary housing, 111 are staying with family or friends and are receiving compensation from the company and 3,162 are in the placement process till the situation is completely under control.

Current Environmental Challenges

15. Mercury and Air Toxic Standards

Until now there have been no federal standards that require power plants to limit their emissions of toxic air pollutants like mercury, arsenic and metals – despite the availability of proven control technologies.

EPA is proposing to find that, considering costs do not alter the determination that it is appropriate to regulate the emissions of toxic air pollution from power plants. Support for these standards is widespread and diverse.

EPA received more than 800,000 public comments in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.


In 2011, Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) came into action to put first ever national limits on emission amount of mercury and other harmful gases by power plants. Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of toxic air pollutants.

Game Plan

The rule if executed will prevent 90% mercury pollution resulting due to coal burned in the air. The main aim is to reduce 88% acid gas emission and 41% sulfur dioxide pollution. The entire process of MATS will modernize the aging fleet of old power plants.


U.S. Court of Appeals rejected a bid by the coal mining industry. The court favors limits set for release of mercury and other toxins. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that health and environmental benefits will outweigh the costs incurred for finding and executing other alternatives. The EPA has already started calculating approximate costs and it will be published in April 2016.

16. Greenhouse Gas Rules

On August 3rd 2015, EPA devised a Clean Power Plan to keep a track on emissions of pollutants that were on a rise till 2005. The foundation for this issue was laid long back in 2010 where the EPA defined threshold limits for pollution.

The rule was mainly designed to curtail the harmful emissions from power plants, refineries and cement production factories. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also making efforts by introducing concept of generation of new vehicles.


On April 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a draft for revising Clean Water Act.

Game Plan

The case or the proposal is divided into three sections. One for the new facilities, second for the existing facilities and the rest for new off shore gas and oil facilities.


Following broad casting of this rule, NCASI assembled a Q & A document on September 2015. The document intends to ask for the information on rules that apply to facilities in Forest Products Industry. The main topics covered in this document are criteria where the rules will be applied, compliance alternatives and provisions pertaining to Endangered Species Act.

17. Cooling Water Intake System Rule

Thousands of industries are using large volumes of water from water bodies to cool their plants. The strategy of cooling water intake structures is laying a negative impact on the environment.

The rule mainly is designed to protect fishes and other aquatic animals from harm that is caused by screens associated with surface water intake structures.

The final rule issued will be applied at nearly 544 power plants. These plants will now have to resort lower cost compliance options. The rule demands that existing facilities who withdraw at least 25% water, will have to figure out some other alternative. In place of that seven options are recommended for reducing impingement.


On December, 2009 Administrator Lisa Jackson signed a final action under section 202(a) of Clean Air Act after publishing that six greenhouses were acting as a threat to public health and welfare.

Game Plan

The rules are implemented with a vision to save more than six thousand oil barrels till 2025. Main aim is to save up to 3,100 million metrics tons of carbon monoxide emissions. By 2022, Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) will reduce green house emission up to 138 million metric tons.


Till 2030, this plan if executed properly will result in 32% reduction of green house gases. Industry representatives and group of state attorneys are preparing to file lawsuits soon to challenge this movement being led by the States president Obama. Mr. Profeta said that the rule and its implementation will be a two edged sword.

Accelerating Environmental Triumphs

Class Action Lawsuits have been used successfully to support and promote environmental justice around the world. Successful lawsuits against big corporations protect people who are immediately affected by these cases but at the same time, it also has reverberation that last generations. These successful lawsuits give environmentalists around the world,

Successful lawsuits against big corporations protect people who are immediately affected by these cases but at the same time, it also has reverberation that last generations. These successful lawsuits give environmentalists around the world, hope of a safer, greener haven.

Jordan Shaw17 Top Controversial Lawsuits That Brought Environmental Triumph

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