Disney Agrees to Settle River Pollution Lawsuit by Taking Action at Movie Studio Lot

A long-running case alleges violations of the Clean Water Act.
Claire Rydell/Newscom
Disney Studios, Burbank

The Walt Disney Company has submitted a settlement to end a six-year-old lawsuit from an environmental watchdog over water pollutant discharges at its motion picture studio lot in Burbank, California. The Mickey Mouse company is admitting no liability but has agreed to measures to prevent tainted waters in the rivers of Los Angeles.

The original 2009 lawsuit filed by Environmental World Watch and local residents charged Disney with dumping contaminated waste near its Burbank studios for decades, including hexavalent chromium, the contaminant made famous in the film Erin Brockovich. The long-running case evolved into a different examination over whether Disney was violating the Clean Water Act by not having sufficient permits for the discharge of landscape irrigation runoff and fire-line flushing. After a ruling in September 2013, a judge paved the way for a trial where the plaintiff would have to prove that pollutants were discharged to navigable waters like the Los Angeles River. However, the judge allowed Disney to bring this first-of-its-kind issue to a federal appeals court, where it's been pending.

But on Feb. 10, attorneys for both sides, after discussions with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, brought a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement.

Under the terms, Disney continues to deny it needs a federal permit and will continue to discharge storm water and certain categories of non-storm water, but has agreed to install drop-inlet filters in six to eight catch basins to capture the water runoff from parking lots and roads at its movie studio lot. In addition, Disney would pay $250,000 to go to the plaintiffs' lawyers to defer the cost of pursuing the litigation. In exchange, the lawsuit will end, and the plaintiffs (not EWW, see below) will release Disney from further claims on the matter.

The U.S. government has submitted a statement of interest that it is not taking a position on the settlement agreement, but that it has concluded it is not inconsistent with the Clean Water Act.

The parties in the case are also touting the "environmental benefits" of the deal as the lawsuit merely sought relief that Disney apply for a federal permit. Instead, Disney is taking measures "to reduce the volume and concentration of pollutants in Disney's storm sewer discharges."

In a statement, a Disney spokesperson clarifies the arrangement:  

"The Company has authorized a settlement in this particular case solely to put an end to the costs of litigating whether a federal permit is needed for studio landscape irrigation runoff. No such permit is required as part of the settlement. The settlement does not involve Environmental World Watch, Inc., and the Company continues its forceful defense against the baseless claims by EWW and related plaintiffs still pending in state court."  

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

comments powered by Disqus