Wilson v. Amoco Corp.
Citation: 28 ELR 21080
The court issues a mandatoryinjunction against an oil company for extensive contamination of a river and surrounding land, but due to lack of evidence refuses to enjoin three other companies. The court first declines to invoke the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. The doctrine does not mandate blind deference in all circumstances involving issues of agency expertise. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) are not so esoteric or complex as to foreclose their consideration by the judiciary. Furthermore, RCRA and the FWPCA explicitly empower citizens to enforce the Acts' provisions. The court next holds that the citizens must demonstrate irreparable harm, but it is permissible to lessen the weight attributable to that usually dispositive factor. When a case is brought pursuant to an environmental or public health statute, the primary focus shifts from irreparable harm to concern for the general public interest.
The court then holds that it will consider the citizens' RCRA claims but not the FWPCA claims. The alleged ongoing violation is the continuing migration of contaminated groundwater to the North Platte River, and there is a split of authority and a lack of briefing to the court as to whether such ongoing migration constitutes an FWPCA violation. The court next holds that the citizens established a likelihood of success on the merits as to claims against the oil company. The contamination at the oil company's refinery and tank farm and its continuing migration and impact on the North Platte River and off-site properties, and the oil company's resistance to quantification of the risk resulting from that contamination, constitute an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment. The court also holds that the citizens established a substantial likelihood of irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued. Without an injunction, the contaminated groundwater will continue to impact the river, the off-site contamination will persist, the extent of the asbestos contamination will remain undefined, the risk posed by lead and other metals will not be quantified, and the presence or absence of dense nonaqueous phase liquids will not be determined. The court then holds that the extent to which the oil company would be injured by incurring additional site-investigation expenses due to an injunction is eminently less than the injury that could befall the citizens and the environment if an injunction is not issued. The court further finds an injunction to be in the public's best interest. Therefore, the court orders the oil company to engage in various investigative, monitoring, and interim measures. However, given that a trial on the merits is six months away, it is unreasonable to issue a plenary order requiring further remediation efforts.
Last, the court refuses to enjoin the other defendants in the case. The evidence presented against the service station was not sufficiently heavy and compelling to attribute the contamination to the service station or establish that the contamination poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment. As for the railroad company, only diesel fuel was shown with any certainty to be attributable to the railroad, and the evidence does not clearly indicate an existing threat to human health or environment. As for the dry cleaning facility, there is indetermination as to the degree and extent to which the facility contributed to the contamination.
Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert T. McAllister
McAllister & Murphy
1120 Lincoln St., Ste. 1600, Denver CO 80203
Counsel for Defendants
Frank D. Neville
Williams, Porter, Day & Neville
145 S. Durbin St., Ste. 300, Casper WY 82601