Court Rejects PG&E’s Effort To Avoid Claims For Massive Contamination Of SF Bay and SF Neighborhoods

SAN FRANCISCO, February 26, 2015 – Judge William Orrick of Northern District of California federal court in San Francisco Bay, today, rejected efforts by PG&E to avoid claims arising out of massive contamination of the Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods and nearby waters of the San Francisco Bay. As alleged in the Complaint, PG&E has known about the contamination since at least the 1970’s; however, it not only has failed to clean up the contamination, it has vigorously resisted conducting the testing necessary to determine its full extent.

PG&E argued that claims brought by the San Francisco Herring Association, an association of commercial herring fishermen, and a Marina property owner under the federal environmental laws—the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act—failed as a matter of law and that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to pursue the claims. The Court rejected each of several arguments raised by PG&E, including: that contamination left behind 100 years ago could not be the basis for a Clean Water Act claim now; that contamination which migrates to navigable water through groundwater could not form the basis for a Clean Water Act claim; and that PG&E could avoid claims under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act on the ground that a regulatory agency had approved of a remediation plan alleged to be inadequate.

The contamination at issue is the result of PG&E’s operation in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s of what are known as “manufactured gas plants” or “MGPs” at two locations in the present day Marina neighborhood and at one location in the present day Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. MGPs were refineries that turned coal, oil, and combinations thereof into gas that was pumped to residences in their vicinity. The process created large amounts of highly toxic waste, including waste that contained large concentrations of chemicals known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons or “PAHs.” PAHs are carcinogens and are highly toxic to marine life, especially herring in their early life stages. They are also extremely persistent, able to remain highly toxic for hundreds of years after being released into the environment.

“This case seeks something very simple but very important: identification and cleanup of the toxic contamination left behind by PG&E,” said Stuart G. Gross of Gross Law, P.C., counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We are gratified that the Court agreed that the plaintiffs’ claims have merit. We look forward to pursuing their successful resolution.”

The lawsuit is titled, San Francisco Herring Association v. PG&E, No. 14-4393 (N.D. Cal.).

A copy of the Order is available here: [44] SFHA v. PGE Order Denying MTD.pdf

A copy of the Complaint is available here: San Francisco Herring Association v. PG&E, No. 14-4393 (N.D.Cal.)

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