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AFFF Litigation Paving the Way for National PFAS Litigation

Forever chemicals, scientifically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been produced and manufactured in a wide variety of industries since it was first discovered in the 1930s. Litigation and regulatory efforts have been underway for over two decades, arising from the ubiquity and persistence of PFAS and the growing amount of scientific evidence pointing towards PFAS exposure-based health impacts.[1] Characterized by their heat, oil, and water-resistant properties, PFAS are used in products as varied as pizza boxes, make-up, and firefighting foam.[2] The latter has been identified as a potential major source of PFAS contamination in the environment and drinking water–sparking a host of litigation efforts throughout the country.[3]

On September 27, 2018, a federal judicial panel decided to consolidate these cases by creating Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) 2873 set in the United States District Court of South Carolina.[4] MDL-2873 is comprised of over 1800 cases that have common questions of law and fact involving the use of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) and PFAS contamination.[5] These cases generally allege that defendants, mostly major chemical manufacturers, contaminated groundwater with PFAS near various military bases, airports, and other industrial sites with the use of AFFFs.[6]

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Chicago Moves Forward in Clean Air Efforts, But Uncertainty Remains for Developers and Businesses

In 2019, Chicago’s average air quality index (AQI) was 52 (“moderate”).[1] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines “moderate” air quality as acceptable air quality, but for some pollutants, there may be a moderate health concern to a small number of individuals.[2] AQI ratings are calculated by weighing six key criteria pollutants for their risk to health: (1) ozone, (2) particulate matter, (3) carbon monoxide, (4) nitrogen dioxide), (5) sulfur dioxide, and (6) lead.[3] Particulate matter includes both PM10 and PM2.5, which are the numbers referring to the particle’s diameter in micrometers.[4]

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Wolves Take Centerstage from Courtroom Battles to Climate Crisis

In the early days of January 2021, the gray wolf was officially removed from the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.[1] By February 2, 2021, the hunter advocacy group, Hunter Nation, had filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) alleging the agency violated state law by failing to schedule a wolf hunt after the delisting of the gray wolf had taken effect.[2] A little more than a week later, the court ruled in favor of Hunter Nation and forced the DNR to hold a wolf hunt by the end of the month.[3] The outcome was devastating.

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PFAS: Illinois’ Chance to Confront “Forever Chemicals”

What do pizza boxes, non-stick pans, make-up, firefighting foam, water-repelling clothing, and fast-food packaging all have in common? A simple, four-letter word: PFAS.[1] Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been around for decades, appear in a vast variety of industries around the globe, and pose a substantial risk to human health and the environment.[2] Worst of all, they rarely degrade.[3] For this reason, they have been dubbed by the scientific community “forever chemicals.”[4]

PFAS is an umbrella term for a group of thousands of man-made chemicals characterized by their ability to repel water, grease, dirt, and oil.[5] PFAS are chains of one of the strongest chemical bonds in nature, which do not easily break down under natural conditions.[6] This has far reaching implications that are not readily apparent. When the rest of a product that contains PFAS breaks down, you are left with tiny remnants of forever chemicals. But where do they go and what happens to them?

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Not Just Keystone XL: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice

Indigenous groups have been the stewards of the American terrain for generations.  Yet, these communities are in a constant battle not only to protect their own sacred land from ecological harm but also to advocate for a stable climate.[1] The continued exploitation of indigenous land by large corporations and the U.S. government is a reminder that colonialism is still alive and well in today’s governance.[2]  The loss of critical habitat for many species that indigenous people rely on leads to not only the loss of necessary resources for survival but also sacred cultural practices. [3] Treaties between the U.S. government and indigenous groups are intended to guarantee continued tribal access to species as their habitats continue to change, however,  these treaties are often not honored by the U.S. government.[4]

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To Salt or not to Salt? There’s Legal Liability Either Way.

Road salt, seemingly innocuous, is a silent destroyer of aquatic ecosystems, wildlife, groundwater resources, and transportation infrastructure.[1] It takes just one teaspoon of road salt, which is made of sodium chloride, to pollute five gallons of water.[2]

Road salt is applied to roads, parking lots, and sidewalks to aid in dissolving snow and melting ice for transportation convenience and safety. When snow melts, road salt washes away with it—into storm drains, through stormwater collection system, and ultimately into our waterbodies.[3]

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Recent Bankruptcy Ruling Signals Potential for Widespread Shifting of Mine Cleanup Obligations onto Taxpayers

Confirming the fears of environmental groups, on March 19 U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin A. Kahn approved the abandonment of cleanup obligations in thirty-three Kentucky coal mines previously owned by coal company Blackjewel LLC.[1] Approximately 170 other Blackjewel facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia will fall into a legal gray area as the company attempts to sell the mines to other coal companies.[2] Cleanup obligations for any permits not sold or transferred within six months will be abandoned.[3]

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BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program at a New Frontier

A decades-long effort to reform the federal program that manages free-roaming wild horses and burros throughout the West faces a new challenge in a recent lawsuit filed by the American Wild Horse Campaign (“AWHC”).

The Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (“Act”) vests the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) with the responsibility to manage and protect wild horses and burros across nearly 27 million acres of public land in the West.[i] According to recent surveys, 100,000 wild horses and burros live on these lands,[ii] yet the BLM estimates that the area can only sustain about 27,000.[iii]

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Legal Personhood: the Growing Movement to Give Bodies of Water their Day in Court

The momentum for granting legal personhood to bodies of water is growing, as one water scholar and conservationist, Kelsey Leonard, recently noted.[1] Legal personhood grants bodies of water the same legal rights in a courtroom as a person.[2] Personhood is defined as “any subject matter other than a human being to which the law attributes personality.”[3]

Christopher D. Stone developed the concept of giving an environmental entity legal personhood.[4] Stone’s work was later recognized by Justice William Douglas in his dissent in the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case of Sierra Club v. Morton.[5] Douglas argued for different environmental media to have a locus standi (e.g., the right to bring an action before the court of law) for their own protection and preservation.[6]

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How Grid Resiliency can Help Tackle Climate Change

Americans are experiencing the impacts of climate change on an increasingly acute level every day. The February storms across the nation that resulted in rolling blackouts across Texas and several other nearby states underscored the crisis and raised questions about whether the American electricity grid can withstand the negative effects of climate change, such as extreme temperatures, more frequent and intense storms, floods, wildfires, droughts, and more.

Since 2011, the United States has sustained $135 billion in damages from extreme weather and climate disasters, with more than seventy extreme climate events affecting the Midwest.[i] One recent study showed that investor-owned utilities face a $500 billion resilience investment gap.[ii]

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