Battling it out in a Court Room :: Will the Polluter Pay?

Lead-Based Paint:

A Northern California judge has ordered three companies to pay $1.1 billion to remove lead-based paint from inside California homes, concluding a 13-year legal case.

Ten California cities and counties, including Los Angeles County and the cities of San Diego and San Francisco, sued major paint manufacturers in 2000, alleging they promoted the use of lead-based paint even though its dangers had been known for many decades.  The California Legislature has determined that homes built before 1978, or more than 3.5 million homes within the 10 jurisdictions, presumably contain lead-based paint, according to Joe Cotchett, a lawyer representing the cities and counties. As early as the 1930s the companies knew their product was poisoning children and attempted to conceal it, according to Cotchett.

Judge James P. Kleinberg ruled that ConAgra Grocery Products LLC, NL Industries Inc., and Sherwin-Williams Co. created a 'public nuisance' by selling lead-based paint.  Two other defendants, Atlantic Richfield Co. (a LA-based unit of BP Plc), and DuPont Co., won dismissal of the claims against them.

It is likely that the companies will file objections with the trial judge. If those aren’t accepted, the defendants will likely ask for a new trial or mistrial, and if that’s rejected, they will appeal.

Read more here and here.

Migrating Wastewater:

A case involving the disposal of industrial wastewater could have major implications on oil and gas interests.  The Texas Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on January 7 in a dispute between a company that operates injection wells in Liberty County and a nearby rice farm that says wastewater from those wells has migrated into a saltwater aquifer below its land. It calls the migration trespassing, for which it should be compensated.

The well in question is classified as Class I and used for nonhazardous industrial waste. It is not one of the 50,000 Class II waste wells that drillers typically use. But lower courts’ opinions have drawn no distinction between the wells, stirring concerns that a ruling in the rice farm's favor would harm oil and gas production.

"Because the ability to produce oil and gas is inextricably tied to the availability of injection wells," the Texas Oil and Gas Association says in a brief, "a new common law cause of action that threatens operation of injection wells likely threatens oil and gas production."

Representatives of the farm say they worry that the waste, which includes the flammable liquid acetone, will contaminate its groundwater and erode the value of its property. Though the water is too salty to drink, those on the farm's side contend that it is valuable because desalination technology could make it drinkable.

Read more here.