Author: David J. Freeman

Environmental Group’s David J. Freeman to Co-Chair NYSBA’s Superfund/Brownfield Program Update 2023

The New York State Bar Association Environmental & Energy Law Section is presenting a virtual conference on the state’s brownfield and federal Superfund programs on Tuesday, December 5. Gibbons’s David J. Freeman, Environmental Group Senior Counsel, is Co-Chair of the conference, which will feature a distinguished faculty comprising government officials, attorneys, and consultants in the field to review recent developments in both programs. In addition, Mr. Freeman will moderate the panel discussing the federal Superfund program. The CLE event will also feature a panel discussion on current issues in environmental insurance and an update on recent case law involving Superfund and brownfield issues. For more information about the program or to register to attend, please click here.

David J. Freeman and Matthew J. Sinkman to Chair Panels at Upcoming Superfund/Brownfield Program Update 2022

David J. Freeman and Matthew J. Sinkman of the Gibbons Environmental Group will serve as Panel Chairs at the upcoming annual Superfund/Brownfield Program Update 2022, presented by the Environmental & Energy Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. The program will take place virtually on December 7, 2022. Mr. Freeman, Co-Chair of the conference, will moderate a panel regarding developments in the federal Superfund program over the past year. Mr. Sinkman will moderate a panel regarding renewable energy issues and the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). An outstanding faculty of government officials, attorneys, and consultants will participate on these panels as well as panels regarding statutory amendments to the BCP and proposed changes to BCP regulations, affordable housing issues, and a case law update. Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) and NYLCV Education Fund, will be the Keynote Speaker and discuss the results of the 2022 elections and what they mean for New York’s environmental agenda. You can register for this timely program by clicking here.

USDOJ Legal Memo Clarifies Department’s Policy on Using Federal Judgment Fund to Settle Superfund Cases

A U.S. Department of Justice legal memo, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Bloomberg Law, has clarified and restated the Department’s strict policy against using the federal Judgment Fund to settle Superfund cases in which the federal government is a Potentially Responsible Party (PRP). The memo states that the federal government can settle its liability by payments from the Fund only if the settlement is “final” – that is, there are no contingencies or future payments due. Many Superfund settlements do not meet that standard, since they typically include reopeners, “pay-as-you-go” arrangements, or provisions for additional funding if the remedy proves more expensive than originally estimated. As Gibbons Director David J. Freeman told Bloomberg Law, “It’s not a favorable development for the program, or for making progress on settlements in general, for the government to be taking such a hard line on this.” This policy will likely result in making it more difficult to achieve settlements at sites where the federal government is a PRP.

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 whether social distancing at specific sites is possible. In making decisions to reduce or suspend...

New York City and State Close Down All “Non-Essential” Construction

As noted in our blog published on March 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s March 20, 2020 Executive Order 202.8 directed all “non-essential” businesses to implement remote work policies for 100% of their workforces, effective March 22 through April 19, 2020. The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) issued initial guidance on March 24, 2020, whereby it interpreted the Order to allow, as a category of “essential business,” “construction,” “including skilled trades such as electricians and plumbers,” and “for essential infrastructure or for emergency repairs and safety purposes.” ESDC updated and clarified its guidance on March 27, stating that “[a]ll non-essential construction must be shut down, except for emergency construction” and certain types of “essential construction.” Per the updated guidance, “emergency construction” includes “a project necessary to protect health and safety of the occupants, or to continue a project if it would be unsafe to allow to remain undone until it is safe to shut the site.” “Essential construction” includes “roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing and homeless shelters.” Even at emergency or essential construction sites, social distancing must be able to be maintained, or the site must shut down. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $10,000. On March 30, the New York City Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) and...

Environmental Obligations for Businesses in New York During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has slowed business—and activity in general in many areas of the United States—to a crawl. New York State is one of the places hit hardest by this pandemic. Indeed, at the time of this writing, New York has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country. Unfortunately, the spread of the virus shows no signs of relenting. Nonetheless, manufacturing, the real estate industry, and other regulated businesses continue to face environmental reporting obligations, regulatory deadlines, and potential penalties for non-compliance. Businesses and other property owners are dealing with remediation deadlines, as well as operation and maintenance obligations of environmental controls. Businesses are also rightly concerned about reporting requirements under various permits, including under such federal permitting programs as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and others. Meeting these obligations has become significantly complicated by the pandemic and the ancillary issues it has brought on, such as the illness of key personnel, inaccessible facilities, and other impediments. On March 20, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.8, which directs that all “non-essential” businesses implement remote work policies for 100 percent of their respective workforces, effective March 22 through April 19, 2020. The Executive Order further states that businesses that provide “essential services or functions...

Superfund Task Force Listening Session on Recommendation 21: Encouraging PRPs to Integrate Reuse Opportunities into Cleanups

On June 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held the fourth of its listening sessions on the recommendations of its Superfund Task Force to improve the implementation of the federal Superfund program. This session focused on Recommendation 21, which is to encourage Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) to integrate reuse opportunities into their cleanup plans. The EPA presenters began by providing the background of the Superfund Task Force Report and its five overall goals: (1) expediting cleanup and remediation; (2) reinvigorating PRP cleanup and reuse; (3) encouraging private investment; (4) promoting redevelopment and community revitalization; and (5) engaging partners and stake holders. The EPA presenters identified why PRPs may have an incentive for incorporating reuse into their cleanup plans. They also posed two questions: (1) why do PRPs not routinely consider re-use when performing site investigations and cleanups; and (2) what options and incentives can EPA use to assist PRPs in integrating re-use into their decision-making process? A copy of the slide presentation accompanying EPA’s oral presentations is available here. EPA then opened the floor for questions and comments from the participants in the listening session. There was only one comment made during the call: a lawyer from Northwestern Pritzker Law School commented that it was not clear that emphasizing reuse of sites is consistent...

Budget Act Makes Changes to Federal Brownfield Program

As noted in last week’s blog, the recently-passed Consolidated Omnibus Appropriations Act made a number of modifications to the federal brownfield program. That blog focused on the expansion of lessees’ ability to qualify for Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser (BFPP) status (and thereby obtain protection from Superfund liability). However, the Act made other changes that are of interest to brownfield site owners, developers, states, municipalities, and potential applicants for federal brownfield grant money. These modifications are found in Division N of the legislation, entitled “the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2018” (“BUILD Act”). They include the following: eliminating state and local government Superfund liability for sites acquired through seizure or otherwise in connection with law enforcement activity. State and local governments were previously protected only with respect to sites acquired “involuntarily”; eliminating the restriction for grants to petroleum sites that a site must be “relatively low risk” as compared with other petroleum-only sites in a state; allowing grants to be used for the cleanup of publicly-owned properties even if the public owner is not a BFPP; increasing the maximum federal brownfield grant per site from $200,000 to $500,000, which limit can be waived by EPA up to a maximum of $650,000 per site; authorizing multi-purpose brownfield grants of up to $1 million per...

Federal Budget Act Expands Lessees’ Ability to Claim Superfund Exemption as Bona Fide Prospective Purchasers

The recently-enacted Consolidated Omnibus Appropriations Act made headlines in extending funding for federal government programs through September 30, 2018. Less widely noted were the myriad changes wrought by the Act to the administration of many federal programs. Among the programs affected was the federal brownfields program. The major substantive change in the Act was the expansion of the Bona Fide Potential Purchaser (BFPP) protection for lessees of properties. BFPP status exempts from Superfund liability parties who become owners or operators of facilities after the discharge of contaminants, so long as they are unrelated to parties responsible for the discharge, conduct “all appropriate inquiries” (e.g., a Phase I environmental site assessment) prior to closing, and observe certain other protocols post-closing. Until now, lessees were precluded from qualifying as a BFPP unless the property owner was also a BFPP. Now, if a lessee performs the required actions, it can obtain BFPP protection irrespective of whether its landlord is similarly exempted. This change will have a major impact on the liability exposure of lessees, particularly those who are developing and operating properties under long term ground leases. Most of the Act’s other brownfield-related provisions concern the funding of federal brownfield grants. Non-profit organizations are now eligible for such grants. The eligibility of grants for petroleum-related sites has been expanded. The...

New York DEC Finalizes Definition of “Underutilized” Under Brownfield Cleanup Act Amendments

On July 29, 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) announced that it had finalized the definition of “underutilized” for purposes of the 2015 Brownfield Cleanup Act Amendments and eligibility for redevelopment tax credits. The final rule closely tracks DEC’s March 9, 2016 proposed definition, which attracted numerous comments, mostly adverse, from members of the public and the regulated community.