Energy & Environment

Environmental Litigation

1/19/2017

Susman Godfrey has decades of experience representing both plaintiffs and defendants in litigation concerning the discharge of hazardous substances into the environment. Our firm has represented state and local governments as well as private plaintiffs in lawsuits to stop the discharge of pollutants into the environment and to recover damages associated with those discharges. These actions have included Superfund remediation actions, natural resource damage ("NRD") actions, and toxic tort actions for personal injuries. We have also represented insurance companies in dozens of significant coverage disputes concerning environmental contamination.

For its efforts regarding climate change litigation, Susman Godfrey was one of four law firms selected as a recipient of the 2008 National Law Journal — Pro Bono Award. The firm worked on behalf of the Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition in its successful efforts to block 8 new coal-burning power plants that would contribute to global climate change.  Susman Godfrey represented — to the tune of $2 million in billable time — a coalition including Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Waco, El Paso, Plano, Arlington, Irving and 28 other local governments across Texas. The cities were concerned about the environmental threats resulting from the large amounts of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, and carbon dioxide to be emitted from the proposed plants. In February 2007, following the announcement of the proposed buyout of TXU by two private equity firms and citing a new environmental direction for the company, TXU announced that it would withdraw applications for all eight of the coal units that the coalition opposed.

Other representative recent actions include:

  • Susman Godfrey represents Texas Brine in several ongoing litigation matters relating to the Bayou Corne sinkhole.  The sinkhole, located in northern Assumption Parish, Louisiana, appeared on August 3, 2012, and eventually encompassed 26 acres.  Numerous lawsuits have resulted, relating to property damage, business interruption, environmental restoration, and insurance coverage. 
  • In 2013 two coastal Louisiana parishes, Jefferson and Plaquemines, filed suit against Susman Godfrey client Chevron and approximately 80 other oil and gas companies seeking damages for land loss allegedly caused by oil and gas operations in their respective parishes. These 20+ cases are significant because two local Parishes seek to force restoration of large swaths of coastal Louisiana, along with tens of millions of dollars in damages.
  • Susman Godfrey represents TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, LP in eminent domain proceedings related to the construction of a $12 billion crude oil pipeline system. Susman Godfrey handles cases in which landowners challenge Keystone's right to exercise eminent domain.
  • In November 2009, Susman Godfrey volunteered its services pro bono to represent the Texas Coalition of Clean Air Cities, a group of over 30 Texas cities, who opposed the construction of the Las Brisas Energy Center, a petroleum coke-fired power plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. The proposed plant would significantly contribute to climate change: Las Brisas's own projections estimated that it would emit approximately 10 million tons of carbon dioxide during each year of its operation. After a two-week hearing, the administrative law judges who presided over the hearing issued a 120-page decision recommending denial or remand of the Las Brisas permit. Susman Godfrey again represented the cities during the second trial in 2010, after which the judges once again recommended denial of the permit, based in part on their finding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had improperly assisted the permit applicant. The TCEQ issued the permit regardless, and Susman Godfrey represented the cities in a judicial challenge to the TCEQ's decision. Susman Godfrey won the appeal, and the power company finally abandoned the attempt to put in the plant.
  • In March 2008, Susman Godfrey and its co-counsel obtained final approval of a settlement with the last remaining defendant in a major environmental class action in Corpus Christi, Texas. This complex property contamination lawsuit sought property devaluation damages for a class of more than 3000 residential properties. As lead counsel, Susman Godfrey relentlessly pursued these claims — through three separate trials and four appeals — and ultimately recovered more than $20 million for the class.