Environmental -- 2015

Little v. Louisville Gas & Elec. Co.   (6th Circuit)

Whether common law air pollution claims are preempted by EPA regulation of power plant emissions

Neighbors of a power plant in Louisville sued the company for emitting dust and coal ash from its power generating and sludge processing plants. The suit raised claims under the federal Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), as well as state-law claims of nuisance, trespass and negligence. The trial judge dismissed most of the claims, but allowed the common-law tort claims to proceed. That decision was appealed.

The NAM and other business groups filed an amicus brief supporting the utility, arguing that state common law air pollution claims are preempted by the Clean Air Act. Such claims directly conflict with the structure and purpose of the Act, and the Supreme Court has already held that similar claims under federal common law are displaced and unavailable. The purpose of the Clean Air Act is to ensure some level of uniformity, certainty and predictability in the application of air emissions standards throughout the United States. Piecemeal litigation that asks a judge to decide what is reasonable directly damages the interests of uniformity and predictability, subjecting companies in full compliance with their operating permits to significant and ongoing risk that they may be sued and held liable for their emissions. Moreover, nuisance law is notoriously vague and amorphous, leaving companies unable to predict whether their operations will be subject to potentially crushing damages liability.

This is another in a series of cases in which plaintiffs are trying to expand legal remedies beyond what Congress has legislated. Regulatory agencies like EPA take into account statutory requirements and consider the views of all affected parties when they impose regulations and permit requirements, and allowing individual judges or juries around the country to come up with their own views of what is a nuisance would seriously interfere with the ability of manufacturers and utilities to provide goods and electricity to their customers.

On November 2, 2015, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order and held that such state common law air pollution claims are not preempted by the Clean Air Act. For more information, see the companion Sixth Circuit appeal in Merrick, et al. v. Diageo Americas Supply, Inc.

Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (March 20, 2015)


© 2019 National Association of Manufacturers