One of the risks of running a business is possible litigation. Sometimes, claims against a company involve the environmental impact of its activities.
Even after receiving permits for a project, citizens could challenge that authorization. Recent decisions by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may make that possibility more likely.
Organizations and citizens can appeal environmental permits
In 2023, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set new precedents about environmental permit appeals. The decision resulted from two cases: Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Mountain Watershed Association v. DEP as well as Sunoco Pipeline and Gerhart v. DEP and Sunoco Pipeline.
The suits were over alleged pollution coming from the Mariner East pipeline that Sunoco owns. The company acquired the requisite permits for construction but received various fines due to violations.
As a result, the Mountain Watershed Association appealed Sunoco’s permits. Because of the serious nature of such accusations, the courts require substantial evidence. These environmental cases can last years and cost plaintiffs over $200,000. However, plaintiffs gain the right to sue for legal fees when they prevail.
The business may have to pay the legal fees of the plaintiff
Before the 2023 decision, the Department of Environmental Protection paid a successful plaintiff’s legal fees; essentially, the taxpayers were footing the bill. Now, the standard holds that the company with the permit may also be liable to reimburse the plaintiffs for legal fees.
Leaders in the environmental field already see this change opening the door for more litigation against companies. Fines for violations and reimbursement of plaintiff legal fees could lead to millions in additional expenses for businesses. Time will tell what the full impact of the ruling will be.