Tagged: Remediation

Who’s in Charge Here?: Third Circuit Holds That Government Was Not an “Operator” of Jersey City Chromium Facility for Purposes of Superfund Liability

Who’s in Charge Here?: Third Circuit Holds That Government Was Not an “Operator” of Jersey City Chromium Facility for Purposes of Superfund Liability

Federal courts have long struggled to determine the shape and boundaries of the wide liability net cast by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law. In its recent decision in PPG Industries Inc. v. United States, the Third Circuit applied circuit and Supreme Court precedent to hold that the government’s influence over a chromite ore processing plant in Jersey City during World War I and World War II was not pervasive or intrusive enough to make the government a past “operator” of the plant and thus liable for cleanup costs. Prior to PPG’s 1954 acquisition of the plant (which it continued to operate until 1963), Natural Products Refining Corporation (NPRC) operated the plant, which processed chromite ore into various chromium chemicals, including sodium bichromate. During both World War I and World War II (when it designated the plant’s output as critical war materials, i.e., products manufactured for direct military use), the government regulated the production of chromium chemicals. Through a variety of price, labor, and production controls, the government sought to encourage increased production of these key chemicals. Those efforts, however, did not extend to direct control over day-to-day operations or to...

“Cooperative Federalism” or “Paternalistic Central Planning”?: U.S. Supreme Court Agrees That State Courts Can Hear Claims Over Adequacy of CERCLA Cleanups Under Certain Circumstances, But Limits Plaintiffs’ Options

“Cooperative Federalism” or “Paternalistic Central Planning”?: U.S. Supreme Court Agrees That State Courts Can Hear Claims Over Adequacy of CERCLA Cleanups Under Certain Circumstances, But Limits Plaintiffs’ Options

The federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law, prescribes a careful process for making decisions on how to remediate contaminated sites. To avoid delay, the statute also divests federal courts of jurisdiction to hear most challenges to the selected remedy. In its recent opinion in Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that CERCLA does not bar state courts from hearing claims grounded in state law that go beyond claims for money damages and seek a cleanup that goes beyond what EPA requires. The case arose in Montana, where the Anaconda Copper Smelter operated for over a century and contaminated an area of over 300 square miles with arsenic and lead. Atlantic Richfield Company acquired the financially troubled smelter in the 1970s but could not reverse its decline, and closed it by 1980. Three years later, EPA named it one of its first official Superfund sites, and since then Atlantic Richfield has spent over $450 million on a cleanup that is expected to continue until 2025. The Superfund site that Atlantic Richfield has been remediating includes numerous residential properties. The owners of 98 of those properties sued Atlantic Richfield...

U.S. EPA and New York ESD Provide Updated Guidance Regarding Environmental Work Permitted for During COVID-19 Pandemic

U.S. EPA and New York ESD Provide Updated Guidance Regarding Environmental Work Permitted for During COVID-19 Pandemic

Within the past several days, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) have provided updated guidance clarifying the standards for deciding what types of work may proceed at hazardous waste sites during the COVID-19 pandemic. EPA Interim Guidance on Site Field Work Due to Impacts of COVID-19 EPA’s April 10, 2020 interim guidance supplements the previously-issued March 19, 2020 guidance from the Office of Land and Emergency Management. It applies to response actions at cleanup and emergency response sites where EPA is the lead agency or has direct oversight or responsibility for the work, including response action work that may be conducted by states, tribes, other federal agencies, and potentially responsible parties (PRPs). At these sites, EPA will continue to make decisions on a case-by-case basis regarding ongoing site activities, with top priority given to protecting the health and safety of the public and maintaining the health and safety of EPA personnel and other on-site cleanup partners. The guidance also directs Regions to consider other important priorities, such as whether local officials have made specific requests to suspend work, whether on-site workers have tested positive or shown symptoms of COVID-19, and...

More Than Parking Tickets: Appellate Division Rules that New Jersey Municipal Courts Can Assess Civil Penalties for Spill Act Violations

More Than Parking Tickets: Appellate Division Rules that New Jersey Municipal Courts Can Assess Civil Penalties for Spill Act Violations

Municipal courts are typically called on to rule on such matters as parking violations and speeding tickets. Some statutes, however, give them jurisdiction over a surprising variety of actions. In its published opinion in State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Alsol Corporation, the Appellate Division held that one powerful environmental law, the Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act), grants municipal courts jurisdiction to assess civil penalties for violations of the statute, even where the department has not already gone through an administrative process to assess such penalties. DEP’s complaint against Alsol arose from an October 2016 oil spill at a property it owns in Milltown. According to factual assertions made by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the spill was the result of a contractor’s faulty demolition of three electrical transformers. Oil from the transformers, later determined to contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), spilled onto the surface and into a storm drain. The oil allegedly reached Farrington Lake and may have reached Mill Pond and Lawrence Brook, which a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Fish and Wildlife Officer closed to fishing. The complaint, filed in Milltown Municipal Court, did not allege a violation of the...

Gibbons Director David J. Freeman to Serve as Co-Chair for NYS-NYC Bar Program

Gibbons Director David J. Freeman to Serve as Co-Chair for NYS-NYC Bar Program

Gibbons Director David J. Freeman will serve as Program Co-Chair of an upcoming New York State Bar/New York City Bar conference on Federal and New York State brownfield and Superfund programs. The conference will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on December 12, 2019 at the New York City Bar Association, 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. The program’s distinguished faculty includes New York State Attorney General Letitia James, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez, and other officials from the EPA, the New York State of Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the New York State Office of Attorney General, and the New York City Office of Environmental Remediation. The topics to be discussed will include: trends in federal Superfund enforcement, including natural resource damages claims and the impact of the Superfund Task Force recommendations; NYSDEC policies and practices in implementing the 2015 Amendments to the Brownfield Cleanup Act; the intersection between Superfund and brownfields, focusing on developments at the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site; and an analysis of case law developments in these areas. Click here for a brochure describing the program and here for a further description and registration information.

Expect the Unexpected: New Jersey Appellate Division Rules That Language of Pre-SRRA Contract Requires Remediation Under New Rules

Expect the Unexpected: New Jersey Appellate Division Rules That Language of Pre-SRRA Contract Requires Remediation Under New Rules

It is universally recognized that the 2009 Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA) completely overhauled the process of site remediation in New Jersey. Less obvious, perhaps, was how the new statute could affect contractual cleanup obligations in agreements that predate SRRA’s enactment. In 89 Water Street Associates LLC v. Reilly, the Appellate Division held that the language of a purchase-and-sale agreement from 2004 required the seller to meet all of the requirements of the later-enacted statute, even if the cleanup takes much longer, and costs much more, than originally envisioned. The saga begins in 2004, when the plaintiff entered into a contract to purchase an industrial property in Bridgeton from the defendant’s predecessors in interest. The owner had already been through one remediation process, having obtained a “no further action” letter (NFA) from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) under the Industrial Site Recovery Act (ISRA) (then known as the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act). The owner leased the site to a company (NRI) that he controlled in 1984. Fast forward twenty years, when the parties entered into a contract to transfer the property for $475,000. The agreement set a closing date, which could be extended by six months, but...

NJ District Court Leaves Plaintiff Without Course of Relief Under CERCLA

NJ District Court Leaves Plaintiff Without Course of Relief Under CERCLA

In Stahl v. Bauer Auto, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey handed down a decision that may be troubling for parties seeking to recover environmental cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Responsive Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). By way of background, CERCLA generally provides a private cause of action to plaintiffs in two circumstances. The first falls under section 107(a), which allows a plaintiff to seek recovery of response costs that it has incurred from other potentially responsible parties. The second falls under section 113(f), which allows a plaintiff that is or was the defendant of a cost recovery claim, or that has resolved its liability with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a judicially approved settlement, to seek contribution from other potentially responsible parties. Generally, a party that has incurred or will incur costs under CERCLA falls under one or both of these two categories. However, the N.J. District Court in Stahl held that there is at least one scenario where a plaintiff does not fall into either of these two categories and therefore has no claim under CERCLA. The factual history in the Stahl matter is long and complex. In short, the underlying...

New Jersey Enacts Changes to Landmark 2009 Site Remediation Reform Act

New Jersey Enacts Changes to Landmark 2009 Site Remediation Reform Act

In 2009, in the face of a significant backlog of sites that were stuck in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) pipeline, the New Jersey Legislature dramatically changed the process of site remediation in the Garden State with the enactment of the Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA). The SRRA partially outsourced DEP’s review role by authorizing “private” oversight of cleanups by Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs). On August 23, 2019, Governor Murphy signed new legislation that made further adjustments to the changes wrought by the SRRA. The legislation (L. 2019, c. 263), which sailed through both legislative chambers without a single opposing vote, makes a number of changes to the LSRP program, as well as other changes affecting parties responsible for conducting remediation projects. Amendments Affecting LSRPs Removal of unoccupied structures from list of areas that must be addressed as an “immediate environmental concern.” Expansion of LSRP duties to report immediate environmental concerns and previously unreported discharges. A slight relaxation of licensing requirements for individuals who may have temporarily left the work force for personal reasons. Clarification of prior acts and punishments that will disqualify a person from obtaining an LSRP license. Tightening of LSRPs’ oversight responsibilities to ensure that...

U.S. Supreme Court Provides Guidance on the Disclosure of Confidential Information Under FOIA

U.S. Supreme Court Provides Guidance on the Disclosure of Confidential Information Under FOIA

Businesses often share sensitive information with the government either voluntarily or by mandate. This information becomes subject to requests under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), which is a source of concern to any business worried about disclosure of competitive business information. The United States Supreme Court recently handed down a decision that directly addresses this concern. In Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, the Court provides guidance on the protection from the disclosure of shared information deemed “confidential” under FOIA’s Exemption 4. In addition to businesses, this decision will have significant impact on public interest groups and media that may seek information through FOIA. Justice Gorsuch authored the opinion for the majority, which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Kagan, and Kavanaugh joined. Justice Breyer added an opinion concurring in part, and dissenting in part that Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor joined. Argus Leader Media, a newspaper in South Dakota, filed a request under FOIA seeking information the United Stated Department of Agriculture collected as part of the national food stamp program known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Specifically, Argus Leader sought the names and addresses of retailers that participate in SNAP and each store’s annual...

UPDATE: The Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig Accident Continues to Cause Ripples: Texas Supreme Court Holds That Defense Costs are Not Liabilities Under Insurance Policy

UPDATE: The Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig Accident Continues to Cause Ripples: Texas Supreme Court Holds That Defense Costs are Not Liabilities Under Insurance Policy

UPDATE: The Supreme Court of Texas recently refused an application for rehearing and declined to revisit its January holding that defense costs are not liabilities under an energy insurance policy. That decision, in the matter captioned Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, et al. v. Houston Casualty Company, et al., stemmed from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig accident that has been called, “the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history.” The Court held that Lloyd’s of London Underwriters (“Lloyd’s”) were liable to cover approximately $112 million as a result of policy language that the Court interpreted as distinguishing between “liability” and “expenses.” The case involved the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Anadarko E&P Company, L.P. (collectively, “Anadarko”) and a group of insurance underwriters led by the Houston Casualty Company (the “Underwriters”). Anadarko was a 25% minority interest holder in the Macondo Well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Anadarko reached a settlement agreement with BP under which Anadarko agreed to provide its 25% interest and to pay $4 billion to BP in exchange for a release and indemnity against all other liabilities arising out of the accident. Anadarko’s legal fees and defense expenses were not included...