Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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The Supreme Court granted petitions for certiorari filed by appellants Judson Turner, the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Grady County Board of Commissioners. They appealed the Court of Appeals' decision in "Georgia River Network v. Turner," (762 SE2d 123 (2014)). In 2010, Grady County received federal approval to construct a 960-acre fishing lake. The project also entailed building a large dam and inundating wetlands and nine miles of streams to create the lake. To proceed with the project, Grady County was required to apply for a buffer variance through the EPD in order to disturb the stream waters that would be affected by the project. Non-profit appellees Georgia River Network and American Rivers challenged the variance, arguing that Grady County's application was deficient because it failed to address buffers for the wetlands that would also be affected by the project. The Director granted the variance over appellees' objections. In a separate letter, the EPD advised appellees that wetlands did not require buffers because they generally lack wrested vegetation and were not subject to a variance request. An ALJ overturned the variance, reasoning that OCGA 12-7-6 (b) (15) (A) of the Erosion and Sedimentation Act required a buffer for all state waters, including wetlands. The Director and Grady County filed challenged the ALJ's decision in the superior courts of Fulton County and Grady County, respectively. On the substantive issue of the construction and interpretation of OCGA 12-7-6 (b) (15) (A), both trial courts determined that the Director's construction of the statute was correct and that the buffer requirement only applies to state waters that have wrested vegetation. Appellees then appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found the ALJ had not erred and reversed the decisions of the trial courts. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in its judgment, and reversed. View "Turner v. Georgia River Network" on Justia Law

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Solid wate, recycling, composting and waste water processing facility appellant Wilbros, LLC is subject to the requirements of the Georgia Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Act and related regulations. By Consent Order executed by Wilbros and the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (EPD), Wilbros agreed to pay the Department of Natural Resources $25,000 in compromise and settlement of various disputed violations referenced in the Consent Order. A few months afterward, Wilbros was charged with violation of Stephens County ordinance sections 34-73 (3) and (4). Wilbros and the state court solicitor filed a written stipulation in the case stipulating that Wilbros had been ordered by the EPD to pay a fine for statutory violations of odor issues at the facility and that the operative dates for those violations encompassed the same dates alleged in the local ordinance violation charge. Wilbros filed a plea in bar of prosecution, raising double jeopardy, a preemption challenge, and a constitutional challenge asserting the ordinance was void for vagueness. The trial court denied Wilbros's plea, specifically concluding there was no Georgia authority that permitted a corporation to assert Fifth Amendment double jeopardy protection under the Georgia or United States constitutions, finding that the preemption argument failed, and finding that the county ordinance was constitutional. The trial court also granted Wilbros the right to pretrial appeal. The case was transferred to the Supreme Court because it raised the constitutionality of the county ordinance, an issue over which the Supreme Court had exclusive jurisdiction. Upon careful consideration, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of Wilbros's plea in bar of prosecution. View "Wilbros, LLC v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred injunctive relief at common law. Appellees Center for a Sustainable Coast, Inc. (and David and Melinda Egan) filed a declaratory judgment suit against Appellants Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and DNR's Coastal Resources Division (CRD), by and through its director A.G. "Spud" Woodward. In its suit, the Center sought to enjoin the State from issuing Letters of Permission (LOPs) to third parties authorizing land alterations to property within the jurisdiction of the Shore Protection Act. The trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss the Center's petition, finding that the Center was not entitled to declaratory relief because the State had not waived sovereign immunity, and, even if it had, there was no justiciable controversy. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that the trial court had correctly dismissed the Center's declaratory judgment claim as non-justiciable but improperly dismissed the injunctive relief claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that sovereign immunity barred injunctive relief against the State at common law. View "Georgia Dept. of Nat'l Resources v. Center for a Sustainable Coast, Inc." on Justia Law