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Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)

Case Law Update Details

Case Title

Case No.

Conservation Law Foundation v. Romney 421 F. Supp. 2d 344

Court

State

Date

U.S. District Court - Massachusetts Massachusetts 3/20/2006

Project

Big Dig Environmental Impact Offset Projects

Project Type

Transit

Project Description

To offset the environmental impact of the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project (Big Dig) in Boston, Massachusetts, the defendants agreed to complete twenty public transit projects, including enhancements to the existing public transit system and construction of additional subway, bus, and rail lines. These enhancements potentially implicated the project’s Vent Stack Permits, issued pursuant to the Massachusetts Vent Stack Regulation, and the federally enforceable Massachusetts Transit Regulations.

Case Summary

The plaintiff filed suit against the Governor of Massachusetts, the Secretary of the Office for Commonwealth Development and the Chairman of the Commonwealth Development Coordinating Council, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department, and the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP). The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants’ non-completion of the public transit projects constituted a violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA). The defendants moved for a partial dismissal of the case. The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion to dismiss. In December 2006, the case was stayed pending EPA’s approval of a revised State Implementation Plan (SIP). The parties agreed to file a stipulation of dismissal upon EPA’s approval of a revised SIP.

Key Holdings

Clean Air Act

Federal Enforceability of Citizen Suit. The District Court held that the public transit project requirements described in the Vent Stack Permits and the Transit Regulations were federally enforceable using the citizen suit provision of the CAA, but that the public transit project requirements described in the MDEP Administrative Consent Orders (ACOs) were not.  The court noted that the CAA permits federal court jurisdiction for citizen suits that target a specific “emission standard or limitation” “in effect under” the CAA or a SIP.  The court held that the public transit project requirements described in the Vent Stack Permits and the Transit Regulations fell within the statutory definition of “emission standard or limitation” and were “in effect under” the CAA or a SIP.  The court stated that the project requirements were “in effect under” the CAA or a SIP regardless of whether the phrase “in effect under” is interpreted as referring to the reach of the SIP or a temporal limitation.  The court also noted that the “emission standard or limitation” must be sufficiently specific for a citizen suit under the CAA to be federally enforceable.  The court held that the defendants’ complete failure to act prior to the December 2011 deadline for completion of two of the public transit projects satisfied the specificity requirement of the citizen suit provision.  In contrast to the public transit project requirements described in the Vent Stack Permits and the Transit Regulations requirements, the court held that the project requirements in the ACOs were not enforceable in a citizen suit under the CAA.  The court reasoned that the ACOs imposed no performance deadlines for the projects at issue and therefore lacked sufficient specificity for a citizen suit under the CAA to be federally enforceable.

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