PPG to pay $1.2 million in pollution settlement
April 03, 2019
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Tuesday announced the terms of a settlement with PPG Industries, Inc. (PPG), requiring PPG to pay a $1.2 million civil penalty for environmental contamination.
For decades, from the 1920’s until 1970, PPG dumped polluted materials from a glass manufacturing plant into the Allegheny River in Armstrong County. While there is evidence that the contamination has harmed stream quality and fish near the site of pollution, DEP said that public water supply intakes located downstream have not been impacted by the discharge.
The settlement also requires that PPG cleanup and treat the discharge in the Allegheny River and its tributary Glade Run. Since the lawsuit, PPG has “conducted numerous investigations of its own at the site and implemented various control and remedial strategies to control the leachate discharges.”
DEP Southwest Regional Director Ron Schwartz said that reaching this agreement is “long overdue” but it is necessary for the environment and “protects further generations.”
As part of this settlement, PPG has agreed not to appeal the final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for treated wastewater discharges.
Indiana hate crimes bill signed into law
April 03, 2019
The bill allows judges to impose harsher sentences for criminals who victimize others based on listed traits.
It has been controversial because it was significantly amended from the original bill. Originally, the bill was written to extend protections to people based on age, gender identity and sex. However, the bill that was passed only includes color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation in the list of protected traits.
According to the fact sheet released by the Indiana Senate Republicans, judges are not limited to the list in determining sentencing: “This law is carefully worded to make sure that courts can punish any bias crime committed against a person based on any trait they may have, including gender, even if that trait is not specifically listed in the law.”
Senate minority leader Tim Lanane tweeted in response to the bill: “The bias crimes amendment in SB 198 leaves out protections for age, gender and gender identity, but is being called ‘inclusive’ by the supermajority. I wish I could tell you this is an April Fool’s Day jokes, but sadly it’s not.”
Previously, Indiana was one of five states without a hate crimes bill.
Supreme Court rules certain immigrants do not have right to bond hearing
March 19, 2019
The US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in Nielsen v. Preap that immigrants who have committed certain crimes are not entitled to a bond hearing and once detained can be held in federal custody until their removal proceedings are resolved.
In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court overturned two Ninth Circuit decisions (Preap v. Johnson and Khoury v. Asher) that held that aliens who were not immediately detained upon release from criminal custody were entitled to a bond hearing.
This class action suit arose under 8 USC § 1226, known as the “mandatory detention provision” of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This provision, in relevant part, mandates that “the Attorney General shall take into custody any alien who … is deportable by reason of having committed any offense covered in section … when the alien is released.”
Plaintiffs, mostly green-card holders, argue that, because they were not immediately taken into custody upon completing their sentences, they are not covered by the mandatory detention provision. Many of the plaintiffs lived and worked in the US for years upon release and argue that they should be considered for bond release, rather than detention, while their removal orders are being processed.
The court’s majority disagreed, finding more persuasive the Trump administration’s argument that the government’s duty to detain aliens who have committed certain crimes is not abrogated if the government fails to detain the individual immediately upon release. In closing his opinion, Alito emphasized that the court did not consider the constitutionality of the mandatory detention provision because that question was not brought by the plaintiffs in this case.
In a brief concurrence joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that various statutes limit judicial review in this cases, noting that the Districts Courts likely did not have jurisdiction.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, focused primarily on the statute’s text, finding that:
The language of the statute will not bear the broad interpretation the majority now adopts. Rather, the ordinary meaning of the statute’s language, the statute’s structure, and relevant canons of interpretation all argue convincingly to the contrary.
In announcing his dissent, Breyer also cited concerns with the powers the majority’s opinion grants to the government: “It is a power to detain persons who committed a minor crime many years before. And it is a power to hold those persons, perhaps for many months, without any opportunity to obtain bail.”
Toledo voters approve legal rights for Lake Erie
February 27, 2019
Lake Erie is a source of water for an estimated 11 million US and Canadian citizens. As recently as 2014 the water in Toledo was unsafe to drink for a period of three days, due to runoff from farms causing a toxic green cyanobacteria bloom.
On Wednesday a lawsuit was filed in federal district court, challenging the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. The lawsuit was brought by the Drewes Family Farm and alleges that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights will “put the family at risk of massive liability if any fertilizer runoffs enters the Lake Erie watershed.”
Supreme Court denies international organization absolute immunity from lawsuits
February 27, 2019
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday denied the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an international organization, “absolute immunity” from lawsuits in the US.
About 10 years ago, IFC, an IOIA international organization, entered into a loan agreement with an Indian company to finance the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Gujarat. Local farmers, fishermen and a small village sued the IFC, seeking injunction relief, claiming that pollution from the plant harmed the surrounding air, land and water.
The IOIA of 1945 grants international organizations the same immunity from suit, virtually absolute immunity, as is enjoyed by foreign governments. The FSIA 1952 gives foreign sovereign governments presumptive immunity from suit, subject to several statutory exceptions, including an exception for actions based on commercial activity with a sufficient nexus with the US. The court admits that under the rules applicable in 1945, the extent of immunity from suit was virtually absolute. However, under the rules applicable today, it is more limited.
The court reasoned that the international organization immunity and the foreign sovereign immunity are equivalent. The IOIA’s reference to the immunity enjoyed by foreign governments is to an external body of potentially evolving law, and its scope and content should be given only by reference to the rules governing foreign sovereign immunity. The court rejected the IFC’s concern that interpreting the IOIA immunity provision to grant only restrictive immunity would defeat the purpose of granting the clause. “This concern is inflated.”
The court held that the IOIA of 1945 affords international organizations the same immunity from suit that foreign governments enjoy today under the FSIA of 1976.
Supreme Court orders lower court to determine competency of death row inmate with dementia
February 27, 2019
The justices ruled 5-3 in favor of inmate Vernon Madison, who was sentenced to death for killing a police officer in 1985. While awaiting execution, Madison suffered a series of strokes and was diagnosed with vascular dementia. The justices have previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.
In 2016 Madison petitioned for a stay of execution on the ground that he was mentally incompetent, as he failed to remember committing the crime for which he was sentenced to die. The state responded that even if Madison could not remember the crime, he has a rational understanding of the reasons for his execution.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Eighth Amendment “may permit executing Madison even if he cannot remember the crime,” and that the Eighth Amendment may prohibit executing Madison even though he suffers from dementia, rather than delusions. Ultimately, “the sole question on which Madison’s competency depends is whether he can reach a ‘rational understanding’ of why the State wants to execute him.”
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the majority opinion. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was not yet on the court when arguments took place in early October.
Utah Senate approves hate crimes Bill
March 06, 2019
SB 103 would authorize increased penalties for criminals who target victims based on certain personal attributes including age, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.
(2) A defendant is subject to enhanced penalties under Subsection (3) if the defendant intentionally selects:
(a) the victim of the criminal offense because
of the defendant’s belief or perception regarding the victim’s personal
attribute or a personal attribute of another individual or group of individuals
with whom the victim has a relationship; or
(b) the property damaged or otherwise affected by the criminal offense because of the defendant’s belief or perception regarding the property owner’s, possessor’s, or occupant’s personal attribute or a personal attribute of another individual or group of individuals with whom the property owner, possessor, or occupant has a relationship.
Senator Daniel Thatcher, who sponsored the bill, said the biggest hurdle facing the bill came from senators worried about prosecuting thought crimes. As written, SB 103 would not operate as a standalone criminal offense, and only increase penalties for those convicted of other crimes.
SB 103 faced significant debate on the floor, including over what classes should be covered.