Environmental Justice Group Sues Marine Cargo Site For Polluting Waters

On Friday in the Central District of California, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice organization in Wilmington, Calif., sued Everport Terminal Services, a 180-acre marine cargo site near the Los Angeles Harbor, on accusations that the facility violated the Clean Water Act by polluting the San Pedro Bay (into which the harbor flows) so extensively that the discharges stood to permanently impair downstream waters and aquatic wildlife.

In the associated complaint, it was alleged that stormwater run-off from the defendant’s container terminal contained pollutants, such as copper, zinc, aluminum, iron, and suspended solids. According to the plaintiff, the run-off originated from stormwater sledging out from the storage containers filled with marine machinery and the on-site repairs of the cranes used to move the containers on said premises. The plaintiff averred that the stormwater run-off contributed up to half of all the pollution in the San Pedro Bay and LA Harbor. CBE further asserted that the pollution decimated a necessary habitat for numerous macro-invertebrate and invertebrate creatures, such as flatworms, crayfish, snails, clams, mussels, and dragonflies. Finally, the complaint claimed that the pollution inhibited all recreational use of the waters, such as water sports, fishing, sunbathing, beachcombing, or wildlife observation.

The Clean Water Act bars the discharge of any pollutant into waters of the United States, unless the perpetrator of the pollutants first met requirements laid out in a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the EPA ultimately retains final say in all permitting mandates, individual states designate their own requirements for intrastate water sources. The plaintiff argued that the aforementioned actions of the defendant violated three requirements in the California NPDES permit: “all waters shall be maintained free of toxic substances in concentrations that are toxic to…human, plant, animal, or aquatic life,” “waters shall not contain oils, greases, waxes, or other materials in concentrations that…cause nuisance,” and waters shall “not contain suspended or settleable materials in concentrations that cause nuisance or adversely affect beneficial uses.” The permit defined “beneficial uses” to include any activity that harmed animal ecosystems, particularly those of endangered species, or reasonably resulted in the bodily ingestion of polluted water by humans. 

The plaintiff sought civil penalties of up to $51,570 per day that the defendant committed CWA violations, court costs, attorney’s fees, and an injunction “enjoin[ing the] defendant from violating…the Clean Water Act and from violating the substantive…requirements of the [NPDES] permit….” CBE is represented by Lozeau Drury LLP