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Waters of the United States (WOTUS)
In early 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Army Corps of Engineers implemented a new rule that defined which bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act. This new rule rolled back federal protections of numerous wetlands and ephemeral streams.
The Department of Attorney General joined a number of other states and cities in suing the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to challenge the validity of this rule. That litigation remains ongoing.
County of Maui
The Department of Attorney General joined numerous other states in filing an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the matter of County of Maui v Hawaii Wildlife Fund.
The Clean Water Act primarily regulates discharges of pollution to the waters of the United States. The issue in this case was whether a polluter may avoid regulation by discharging pollution not directly to a body of water, but rather to unregulated groundwater near a protected body of water.
With some modifications, the US Supreme Court adopted the position advocated by the Department of Attorney General and other states, and held that a discharge of pollutants to groundwater is regulated under the Clean Water Act if it constitutes the “functional equivalent” of a discharge to the waters of the United States.
Anchor Strike on Line 5
On April 1, 2018, an industrial barge owned by VanEnkevort Tug and Barge, Inc. and MOM Erie Trader, LLC accidentally deployed and dragged its anchor through the Straits of Mackinac, striking the Line 5 dual pipelines and damaging power cables that supply Upper Peninsula residents with electricity.
While there was fortunately no release of oil from the Line 5 pipelines, damaged power cables released approximately 400-800 gallons of dielectric fluid into the Straits of Mackinac.
The Department of Attorney General filed an enforcement action on behalf of the Attorney General, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in the Ingham County Circuit Court, and also joined an admiralty lawsuit as a claimant in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The matter was resolved by a settlement agreement in which the defendants agreed to pay a combined total of $200,000 in civil fines and costs, and to implement new anchor monitoring technology on their vessels and mandatory anchor-awareness training for all shipboard staff.
Brookside Crossing, LLC
The Department of Attorney General filed an enforcement action on behalf of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy for pollution of Carrier Creek and surrounding wetlands in Eaton County.
After extensive litigation, Brookside Crossing, LLC agreed to remediate the site, but refused to pay any civil fines. Following a lengthy trial, the Eaton County Circuit Court ordered Brookside Crossing, LLC to pay a combined total of $345,500 in civil fines and attorney fees. These orders were upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals in an opinion issued on October 22, 2020.