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  Environmental - Legal News


Two courtrooms in Columbus’ main government building are reopening after tests found a ruptured pipe did not introduce mold or harmful fungi into the air.

A ruptured drainpipe from the roof had dumped leaves, bird feces and other debris into the 11th-floor office of Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Gil McBride in June.

Documents obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer show tests of pipe debris showed no fungi associated with bird and bat droppings that can cause infections in people with weakened immune systems. Samples also showed no significant amounts of mold. Mold levels in the outside air were higher, suggesting the building’s air filtration system is working.

“The courts have been assured by the city that the courtrooms are safe for public use,” McBride wrote in a text message. “This is good news, especially for judges who were without courtrooms for next week.”

The 51-year-old building flooded because of water leaks twice in 2018.

Columbus leaders say they plan to ask voters to approve a special sales tax in November to repair or replace the building.

A nearly 80-pound panel fell in a seventh-floor courtroom and hit a court official a few weeks ago, prompting safety inspections of all courtrooms. Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson could not be reached Friday for an update on inspections.

McBride said Muscogee County jurors will continue to be selected at the municipal ice rink for now. Once jurors are selected, trials will take place in the regular courtrooms.


A federal judge has issued a summary judgment in favor of Washington state against two gold mining companies over years of water pollution stemming from the Buckhorn Mountain gold mine in Okanogan County.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson on Thursday dismissed the companies’ main defenses, writing there was no support for their claims that the state Attorney General cannot enforce all of the mine’s Clean Water Act permit.

The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson contended that Crown Resources and Kinross Gold violated the law by discharging illegal levels of pollutants into creeks in Okanogan County flowing into the Kettle River.

Now the focus shifts to how much the companies will owe for the violations. They potentially face millions of dollars in penalties for their pollution, and the judge will decide how much.

“Crown and Kinross knew even before the mine’s construction that it could release significant contamination, including arsenic and chloride, into surrounding waters, yet plowed ahead anyway,” Ferguson said. “Washington takes our water quality seriously.”

Crown Resources and its parent company, Kinross Gold, own the 50-acre underground mine located approximately 100 miles northeast of Twisp. From 2008 to 2017, the companies extracted approximately $1.3 billion in gold from the mine. Ore extraction stopped in 2017, but contaminants continue to be released from the mine.

Crown Resources said it was disappointed by the ruling and reviewing its appeal options.

“The company maintains that the current discharge permit is unreasonable, based on flawed assumptions and did not properly consider the natural background levels nor previously permitted mine activities,” the company said in a news release.

“Crown has adhered to the highest environmental standards during operation and closure of the Buckhorn Mine, which has resulted in discharge water at or below drinking water standards,” the company said.


The Hawaii Supreme Court has heard arguments regarding a dispute regarding how many endangered Hawaiian hoary bats a wind farm is allowed to kill.

The Na Pua Makani wind farm has sparked controversy after 200 people were arrested trying to stop its massive turbines from being hauled from the port at Kalaeloa to Kahuku, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday.

Now the 24-megawatt project is at the center of a legal dispute with the nonprofit Keep the North Shore Country over the developer’s habitat conservation plan and incidental take license, which allows the turbines to kill 51 bats over 21 years.

Lance Collins, the nonprofit’s attorney, told the justices that the agency did not follow the standard set by the Legislature in protecting endangered species.

John Manaut, attorney for Na Pua Makani, told justices at the hearing that the conservation plan is based on the best available science and was compiled by the members of the Endangered Species Recovery Committee and two experts who testified at the case hearing, the newspaper reported.

Scientists estimate there are between a few hundred and a few thousand Hawaiian hoary bats in the main Hawaiian Islands. The species is the state’s only land mammal and is susceptible to extinction due to its low reproductive rates.

Na Pua Makani is an eight-turbine project that will help Oahu reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, Manaut said.


The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed cautious about siding with oil and gas companies in a case involving global warming.

The case the court was hearing is not about whether the companies can be held responsible for harms resulting from global warming. Instead, it’s an important preliminary fight that could help determine whether similar global warming cases ultimately wind up being argued in state court or federal court, which is the companies' preference.

“I think this is a close call, this case,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh said during a little over an hour of arguments, which the justices have been hearing by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The case is important to more than a dozen similar global warming lawsuits filed around the country by state and local governments against energy companies. But it’s also important to a range of other civil cases, the companies have argued, citing cases involving the aviation industry and health care as well as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. A win for the oil and gas companies would make it easier for defendants to challenge an order sending a case from federal court back to state court.

The Trump administration has backed the oil and gas companies. Several of the eight justices who heard the case suggested that just looking at the text of federal law and at least one of the court's past cases favored the oil and gas companies, but Kavanaugh acknowledged there were also “problems” with their arguments. Justice Elena Kagan suggested at one point that the oil and gas companies' position seemed at odds with what Congress intended.

The case didn't seem necessarily destined to split the court along liberal and conservative lines. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, both liberals, expressed concern that ruling for the oil and gas companies could allow unnecessary delay in cases.

But conservative Justice Clarence Thomas also at one point said he couldn't “avoid the odd sense” that the oil and gas companies' argument would allow the “smuggling in” of peripheral issues to appeals courts.

The specific case the court was hearing comes from Maryland. In 2018, the mayor and City Council of Baltimore sued more than a dozen oil and gas companies in Maryland state courts. They alleged the use of oil and gas produced by the companies — including Shell, BP, Exxon and Chevron — led to greenhouse gas emissions, which contributed to global climate change and caused harm to the city.

The oil companies attempted to have the case transferred to federal court, but a federal district court sent the case back to state court. The oil and gas companies appealed, but the appeals court said it had only limited ability to review the lower court’s decision. The question for the Supreme Court is whether that’s correct.


The U.S. Supreme Court is set to wade into a long-running battle between developers of a 605-mile (975-kilometer) natural gas pipeline and environmental groups who oppose the pipeline crossing the storied Appalachian Trail.

On Monday, the high court will hear arguments  on a critical permit needed by developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Backed by the Trump administration, project developers Dominion Energy and Duke Energy will ask the high court to overturn a lower court that threw out a permit for the pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, the historic footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Forest Service has the authority to grant rights-of-way through lands crossed by the Appalachian Trail within national forests.

Lawyers for Dominion and U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argue in legal briefs that the U.S. Forest Service has jurisdiction over land in the George Washington National Forest, where a 0.1-mile segment of the pipeline would cross about 700 feet (215 meters) beneath the Appalachian Trail.

But the Sierra Club and other environmental groups say that because the 2,200-mile (3,540-kilometer) scenic trail is considered a unit of the National Park System, no federal agency can grant a right-of-way for the pipeline. They say only Congress can approve such a crossing.


The Ohio Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit attempting to block a proposed statewide vote that aims to overturn a financial rescue for Ohio's two nuclear plants, according to a decision issued Wednesday.

The plants' owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, had argued that the financial rescue approved by state lawmakers in July can't be overturned by voters because it amounts to a tax. The company had said the Ohio Constitution prohibits tax levies from being overturned by voters.

While the decision is a win for opponents of the $1.5 billion rescue package for the nuclear plants and two coal-fired plants, they're still waiting to hear whether the courts will give them additional time to collect signatures needed for a statewide vote.

Investors and developers in the state's natural gas industry, along with backers of green energy, have led the fight against the nuclear plant rescue, which adds a new fee on every electricity bill in the state and scales back requirements that utilities generate more power from wind and solar.


An Alaska law promoting fossil fuel development infringes on the constitutional rights of young residents to a healthy environment, a lawyer told Alaska Supreme Court justices on Wednesday.

A lawsuit filed by 16 Alaska youths claimed long-term effects of climate change will devastate the country’s northernmost state and interfere with their constitutional rights to life, liberty and public trust resources that sustain them.

The state’s legislative and executive branches have not taken steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions and adopted a policy that promotes putting more in the air, said attorney Andrew Welle of the Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust group.

“This is an issue that is squarely within the court’s authority,” Welle said.

Assistant Attorney General Anna Jay urged justices to affirm a lower court ruling rejecting the claims. Ultimately, the climate change issues raised by Alaska youth must be addressed by the political branches of government, she said.

“The court does not have the tools to engage in the type of legislative policy making endeavor required to formulate a broad state approach to greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

The 16 youths sued in 2017 and claimed damages by greenhouse gas emissions are causing widespread damage in Alaska. The lawsuit said the state has experienced dangerously high temperatures, changed rain and snow patterns, rising seas, storm surge flooding, thawed permafrost, coastal erosion, violent storms and increased wildfires.

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