As per a report by the UN Environment Programme, there has been a rapid increase in environment-related litigations around the world. In 2017 there were 884 such cases in 24 countries, which nearly doubled in the first half of 2020, with at least 1,550 cases in 38 countries.
The US has a long history of environmental litigation. From cases that helped shape federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions to ones that challenged companies’ pollution practices. These lawsuits have had a huge impact on how we live today.
Here are six high-profile environmental lawsuits that you might not know about:
The Town of Dudley, Massachusetts v. Chevron
In the early 1980s, a landfill in Dudley, Massachusetts, was built on top of a stretch of river. Because of its proximity to the river, it was decided that the landfill should be lined with clay and plastic.
However, this lining did not hold up to its promise, and soon after being built, the site began leaking contaminants into the groundwater system. Worried about potential health risks from contamination at the site and its proximity to residents’ homes, residents banded together and filed a lawsuit against Chevron, who owned the landfill.
The town won its case, and Chevron had to pay 41 million dollars towards cleanup efforts. This court decision set precedence for other environmental lawsuits like it across America.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit
The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination lawsuit was filed in 2012 by the US Justice Department on behalf of the residents of Camp Lejeune. The suit alleges that the water was contaminated with toxic chemicals, including benzene, trichloroethylene, and other chemicals.
The cause of this contamination is believed to be a dry cleaning facility that was located on the base for over 30 years. Many people developed serious health issues after drinking or bathing in this water for an extended period.
But many didn’t realize it until much later because there were no warning signs or symptoms of Camp Lejeune water contamination that came with exposure to these harmful chemicals at that time.
According to recent news on CBS8, The Camp Lejeune Act will allow as many as a million people to sue the government over contaminated water at camp Lejeune.
The United States v. Shell Oil Company
This case was filed in 1995 against Shell Oil Company, which had been charged with violating the Clean Air Act. Shell was accused of failing to comply with environmental regulations and ordered to pay an $8.5 million penalty for its actions.
The settlement also required Shell to invest in new pollution control equipment at its refinery in Pennsylvania, resulting in a dramatic reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions from refineries throughout the country.
According to Statista, sulfur dioxide emissions have decreased drastically in the US in the past decades. With it being around 31.2 million tons in 1970 to 1.8 million tons in 2021.
John Talley v. BP Products North America Inc.
In 2007, BP Products North America Inc. was charged with violating the Clean Air Act by knowingly releasing too much pollution into the air for years at its Texas City refinery. The company was found guilty of negligence and gross negligence in a 2010 trial.
In 2012, the U.S. government sued BP for $18 billion in civil damages due to its involvement in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The incident killed 11 people and caused extensive environmental damage on April 20th, 2010, when an explosion occurred on board an oil rig off Louisiana’s coast, causing it to sink into 5,000 feet of water. It became one of America’s worst oil spills ever.
A federal judge ruled against BP finding it guilty not only of negligence but also “gross negligence,” which could mean higher penalties than usual under the law.
The State of New York v. General Electric
In 1998, the State of New York filed a lawsuit against General Electric for its repeated dumping of harmful chemicals into the Hudson River from 1947 to 1977. In 2004, GE was found guilty and ordered to pay $1.7 billion in damages for polluting New York’s water supply and causing harm to its ecosystem.
Since 2000, GE has paid over $1 billion in fines related to environmental violations. This is expected to continue as states across America file other lawsuits.
State of Vermont v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
In 2004, the State of Vermont filed suit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for violating the Clean Air Act. The state claimed that Exxon Mobil had failed to reduce emissions from its Bayonne and Essex refineries in violation of a consent decree entered into between ExxonMobil and the State in 2000.
In 2006, ExxonMobil was found guilty by a federal judge of violating their consent decree with Vermont and ordered to pay $2 million in fines, an additional $6 million in penalties, and another $8 million towards environmental mitigation projects in the state.
You may have heard about these lawsuits, or you might not. Either way, many famous environmental cases have helped shape environmental regulations and protections over the years. These cases are instrumental in improving our environment and making it safer for everyone to live in today.