Posted on February 26, 2010 by Linda C. Martin
The Oklahoma State Attorney General sued several poultry companies for polluting the Illinois River and its watershed in Eastern Oklahoma as a result of the application and disposal of poultry litter in the watershed. State of Oklahoma v. Tyson Foods, Inc. et. al. Case No. 05-CV-329-GFK(PJC). The suit alleged claims under CERCLA, RCRA, and nuisance among other things. You are referred to the articles posted March 9, 2009 an September 3, 2009 for particulars regarding the claims.
Two weeks before trial, the Cherokee Nation moved to intervene in the case as a necessary party, but the Judge wouldn’t allow it. The Court decided that the damages claims would not be tried, but that the injunctive claims as well as the state penalty claims could be tried with the absence of the Cherokee Nation in the suit. The reasoning was, among other things, that the Cherokee Nation would be potentially prejudiced if the remaining damage claims went forward without it, but that would not be the case if the remaining injunctive claims and state law penalty claims were tried. Although the Cherokee Nation filed an immediate appeal with the Tenth Circuit, it did not ask that the case be stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.
The case has now been tried to the Court. It began on September 24, 2009 and only this month concluded with closing arguments. However, during the trial the Court ruled, in response to a Rule 52(c) motion, among other things, that:
- Poultry litter is an agricultural commodity for which there is both a market and a market value in the watershed.
- Poultry litter has market value because it can be beneficially used as a fertilizer and soil amendment.
- The State did not produce sufficient evidence to convince the Court that farmers, ranchers or other applicators of poultry litter in the Illinois River Watershed land-applied poultry litter within the watershed solely to discard it.
- Under the applicable law and the evidence produced at trial, poultry litter is not a “solid waste” under RCRA, and therefore the State’s RCRA claim was dismissed.
This ruling is very important because of the focus on nutrient issues under the Clean Water Act Nonpoint Source Pollution. EPA states on its website that “States report that nonpoint source pollution is the leading remaining cause of water quality problems.” Indeed, EPA has a “National Nutrient Strategy” and is focusing more on these issues than ever before.