Monday, March 05, 2007

National Parks Conservation Association v. TVA

Mar 2: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Case No. 05-6329. Three environmental organizations brought the suit under the Clean Air Act’s citizen-suit provisions, alleging that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) shirked its duty to obtain appropriate pollution limitations at a power plant it operates in Clinton, Tennessee. The district court granted summary judgment to TVA, concluding that the statute of limitations had run on the plaintiffs’ claim for statutory penalties and that the concurrentremedy rule barred their claim for injunctive relief.

The Appeals Court, in a 2-1 decision, concluded that the district court’s ruling on the statute of limitations was in error, and reversed the grant of summary judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The majority said, "...we conclude that the plaintiffs’ claims for civil penalties are timely insofar as they relate to violations that occurred within five years of the date they filed their initial complaint." The Appeals Court ruling hinged on a determination that an alleged violation manifests itself each day the plan operates, therefore, while violations predating February 13, 1996 are time-barred, the remaining violations are not.

Judge Batchelder, issued a dissenting opinion saying, "I respectfully dissent because I do not agree that this case involves a “series of discrete violations.” I believe this case involves, at most, a single violation that occurred in 1988, and therefore, its statute of limitations expired five years later. I would affirm the district court."

Sierra Club, one of the parties in the suit called the decision a "major victory" and said, "The court recognized that each day that this plant operates without modern pollution control standards, the health of the community and the air is put at risk. This ruling enables citizens across the country to hold dirty coal plants accountable and to obtain civil penalties for past damages. Polluting power plants should take notice. Today’s ruling strengthens a growing sentiment that coal-fired power plants will no longer be able to circumvent pollution laws. The days of special treatment for coal plants are over."

Access the complete opinion and dissent (click here). Access a release from Sierra Club (click here). [*Air]