NASHUA, N.H.—On March 19, Casella Waste Systems filed a motion in United States District Court to halt proceedings in NELC’s Clean Water Act suit, which seeks to require the company to obtain a permit governing the discharge of pollutants from the solid waste landfill operated by Casella and its subsidiary in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation in May 2018, alleges that contaminated leachate from the landfill is being conveyed, without treatment, to the Ammonoosuc River via a discharge channel on the defendants’ property. Monitoring of the landfill leachate has shown the presence of heavy metals, a carcinogenic industrial solvent and various polyfluorinated compounds.
Last summer, Casella had asked the court to dismiss the case in its entirety, arguing that pollutants that travel through groundwater are outside the purview of the Clean Water Act. United States District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro denied the motion. In his decision, Judge Barbadoro noted that this is not a case involving pollutants from a landfill that travel through the groundwater and enter the river from diffuse underground sources, but rather a case involving pollutants that leach into groundwater, emerge on the surface, and are then discharged to the river via the discharge channel. The Clean Water Act, he held, requires a permit for the conveyance of pollutants from a “point source,” and the Act includes a “channel” within its definition of point source.
Accordingly, Judge Barbadoro set the trial of the case for October of this year.
In its recent motion for delay, Casella makes essentially the same argument it lost in its motion to dismiss. Casella argues that the trial should be delayed until after the Supreme Court decides another case due to be argued before that Court this fall. The Supreme Court will examine whether discharges to bodies of water through groundwater, rather than through a point source, are covered by the Clean Water Act.
In our opposition to this motion, NELC attorneys noted that Judge Barbadoro had already ruled that the issue now before the Supreme Court is “completely unrelated” to the discharges for which the citizen groups seek to hold Casella responsible.
“We look forward to a denial of Casella’s motion, and to taking the case to trial in the fall,” stated NELC Litigation Director Chuck Caldart.
The Ammonoosuc River, which flows from Mount Washington in northwestern New Hampshire, is home to a wide variety of fish and plant life, and is a popular fishing and recreational resource in the region. The discharge permit that the lawsuit seeks to require would help ensure that the pollutants from the landfill are not discharged at levels that pose a risk to human health or aquatic species.