Washington v. Crown Resources (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington) On May 7, 2020, Washington sued two gold mining companies for violating the Clean Water Act and discharging illegal levels of pollutants into creeks in Okanogan County flowing into the Kettle River. The case asserts that the companies repeatedly violated the Clean Water Act and the Washington Water Pollution Control Act over the course of six years, doing little to comply with their water quality permit and contain the pollution from the mine. The mine releases contaminants including arsenic and lead into nearby waterways. These contaminants are harmful to people, water ecosystems and fish species like trout. The court denied the gold mining companies’ motion to dismiss the case, which remains pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
Washington et al. v. Bernhardt (U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska) On September 9, 2020, Washington led a coalition of 15 states to challenge the federal government’s opening of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The Coastal Plain is a 1.6 million-acre national treasure, unparalleled in its biological significance for hundreds of species, including caribou, threatened polar bears and millions of birds that migrate to and from six continents and through the lower 48 states. The area is sacred to the indigenous Gwich’in people and is particularly vulnerable to environmental stressors, including climate change, which has caused thinning sea ice and thawing of permafrost in the region. The lawsuit asserts that the drilling plan violates multiple laws, including the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (Refuge Administration Act), the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (Tax Act). Among its many unlawful violations, the administration conducted a flawed environmental review that failed to take a hard look at the drilling plan’s impacts on migratory birds, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change. The case remains pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
Washington et al. v. Council on Environmental Quality (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) Washington and California lead a coalition of 27 states, commonwealths, territories, counties, and cities challenging the federal government’s new rules governing the National Environmental Policy Act. The rules eliminate or reduce environmental scrutiny for a wide range of major federal decisions, and will harm Washington’s most susceptible communities. The lawsuit argues the new regulations unlawfully abandon the principles of informed decision-making, public accountability and environmental protection, violating NEPA itself and the Administrative Procedure Act, which prevents federal agencies from adopting rules that are either against the law or made in an arbitrary or capricious manner. The case is pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
Washington et al. v. Wheeler (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) Washington and California lead a 21-state coalition challenging the U.S. EPA’s new rule substantially weakening Clean Water Act section 401, which authorizes states to withhold or condition certification of federal permits on the basis of the effects on state waters. The case is pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
Washington v. Navy (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington) Washington sued the U.S. Navy over its expansion of its Growler airfield operations on Whidbey Island. In March 2019, the Navy authorized an expansion of its Growler program, increasing Growler take-offs and landings to nearly 100,000 per year for the next 30 years. Growlers are aircraft that fly low in order to jam enemy communications. The aircraft’s training regimen involves frequent, loud take-offs and landings. The Attorney General’s Office asserts that the Navy’s environmental review process for the expansion unlawfully failed to measure the impacts to public health and wildlife in communities on and around Whidbey Island. The case is pending in federal court. For more information, please click here.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, et al. v. The United States Department of the Navy, et al. (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington) Washington was granted Plaintiff-Intervenor status in a case under the Clean Water Act, seeking to challenge the U.S. Navy’s practice of scraping the hulls of decommissioned vessels in a way that releases metals and other contaminants into Sinclair Inlet. This contamination can harm marine life up and down the food chain, including salmon and orcas. In 2020, the Navy agreed to a Consent Decree imposing a ten-year moratorium on in-water scraping of inactive ships in all Washington waters, and requiring the Navy to take significant remedial action at the site. In addition, the Navy agreed to pay the attorney’s fees for the Attorney General’s Office and the other plaintiffs. For more information, please click here.
Washington, et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior (U.S. District Court for the District of Montana) Washington and three other states sued the Trump administration over a program to lease coal mining rights on public land, which contributes to significant coal-train traffic through the state of Washington. The lawsuit challenged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to restart the federal coal leasing program without supplementing or replacing its nearly 40-year-old environmental study. The court ruled in the State’s favor, ruling that the Department of Interior did not properly follow the National Environmental Policy Act. Washington is back in court on this matter, after Interior’s follow-up study fell short of legal requirements. For more information, please click here.
Washington v. Monsanto Corp. (King County Superior Court) Washington State was the first state in the nation to bring legal claims against the Monsanto Corporation for legacy contamination from the production, sale, use, and disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Washington alleges that Monsanto knew of the environmental and human-health harms posed by its continued production and sale of PCBs, as well as their persistence in the environment, but that Monsanto continued to do so in order to maximize its profits. On June 24, 2020, after more than three years of litigation, the Attorney General’s Office announced that Monsanto will pay $95 million to Washington to resolve the lawsuit. For details on the resolution, click here. For case background, click here.
Washington v. Moniz (Perry) (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington) Along with Hanford Challenge, a Hanford workers’ rights watchdog organization, and United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local No. 598, Washington sued the Department of Energy over worker exposures to highly toxic tank vapors emanating from mixed nuclear and chemical wastes stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The state alleged that Energy’s practice of allowing untreated vapors from the tanks to escape and come into contact with Hanford workers created an eminent and substantial endangerment under the federal Resource and Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). The lawsuit was settled with the Federal Government’s agreement to commit to significant safety and technological improvements, and agreement to pay the state’s legal fees. For more information, please click here.
Washington, et al. v. Pruitt (9th Circuit Court of Appeals) Washington, along with several other states and numerous environmental groups, filed suit against the EPA for the EPA’s failure to appropriately regulate use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The EPA’s inaction came despite the fact that its own risk assessments showed that chlorpyrifos harm children’s brains at even low levels from use on foods and/or presence in groundwater supplies. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Washington and other petitioner states and organizations argued that the EPA cannot maintain existing chlorpyrifos tolerances in light of the risk. An en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in the states’ favor, and ordered EPA to rule on petitions challenging EPA’s inaction. Washington and the other states are back in court after EPA denied the petitions. This case is pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Assistance Complying With Environmental Laws
The Washington Attorney General’s Office cannot provide legal advice to private citizens. However, the Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA) has a wealth of information on environmental permitting procedures. ORIA has a number of online resources, including a project questionnaire to easily determine what permits, licenses, or approvals are necessary for a particular project. ORIA can also answer specific questions about Washington State licenses, approvals, and permits.