Author: Jordan M. Asch

NYSDEC Commissioner Directs Agency to Investigate PFAS Contamination in Consumer Products

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Commissioner, Basil Seggos, announced last week that he is directing the Department to conduct a new investigation of potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) contamination in consumer products. PFAS have been designated as chemicals of emerging concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Specifically, Commissioner Seggos has directed the Department to “take a hard look at new science shared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about potential PFAS contamination in consumer products, including insecticides, pesticides, and other crop protectant products packaged in fluorinated high-density polyethylene (‘HDPE’) containers.” Earlier this month, the EPA had issued a press release that stated, “the agency has determined that fluorinated HDPE containers that are used to store and transport a mosquito control pesticide product contain PFAS compounds that are leaching into the pesticide product.” The EPA press release that triggered the Commissioner’s directive announced the EPA’s investigation into companies that use fluorinated containers and companies that provide container fluorination services, in an effort to identify potential sources of contamination. The directive from Commissioner Seggos is the latest in a line of actions taken by New York to address PFAS contamination, including a statewide investigation of potential sources of PFAS and the establishment of drinking water maximum contaminant levels for two PFAS...

NJ’s New Economic Incentive Legislation Includes Supplement to Brownfields Program

The New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020 (NJERA), recently signed into law by Governor Murphy, includes an important new tax incentive for Brownfields called the “Brownfields Redevelopment Incentive Program Act” (BRIPA),  included as Sections 9 through 19 in the act. BRIPA supplements the existing “Brownfield and Contaminated Site Remediation Act” (BCSRA), which provides funds for reimbursement of varying components of remediation costs at Brownfield sites based on certain eligibility criteria, including the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund and the Brownfield Site Reimbursement Fund. Under BRIPA, as under BCSRA, a “Brownfield site” is any commercial or industrial site that is “vacant or underutilized and on which there has been, or there is suspected to have been, a discharge of a contaminant.” BRIPA further expands the definition of Brownfield sites to include sites where there is or suspected to be contaminated building materials. BRIPA takes an approach similar to that of the New York Brownfields Cleanup Program by awarding tax credits of up to the lesser of 40 percent of remediation costs or $4 million under redevelopment agreements entered into by the state and a developer. There is a cumulative cap of $50 million that can be awarded annually under BRIPA. Projects that are eligible for tax credits under BRIPA are those that are located at...

CREMA Provides the Framework for the Regulated Recreational Cannabis Industry in New Jersey, but Disincentivizes Businesses From Seeking to Achieve Certain Legislative Goals

In November 2020, New Jersey voters passed the referendum to add an amendment to the State Constitution for the legalization of recreational cannabis by a resounding margin of 2 to 1. The amendment went into effect as of January 1, 2021; however, implementation and the establishment of the legal recreational cannabis market requires further legislative and regulatory action. As the first step in this process, the State Assembly and Senate each passed the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (“CREMA”). CREMA is the result of tireless legislative negotiation that began well before the November 2020 vote. The end result includes provisions aimed at public policy and social justice considerations, and at creating a competitive business marketplace. For example, under CREMA, the Legislature takes effort to address the disproportionate negative impacts that cannabis prohibition has had on Black New Jerseyans and other minority communities. With the goal of promoting social equity and redressing the historical impact of unequal application of drug laws on minority communities, CREMA provides priority for license applications to businesses located in “impact zones,” which are defined as municipalities that have a population of 120,000 or more or that rank in the top 40 percent for cannabis-related arrests, and mandates that at least 70 percent of tax revenue on...

USEPA Provides Draft Guidance on Application of “Functional Equivalent” Analysis for Clean Water Act Permitting Program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued a Draft Guidance Memorandum regarding how to apply the Supreme Court’s most recent Clean Water Act decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund from earlier this year. In that case (which we previously wrote about here and here), the Court held that the Clean Water Act Section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program requires a permit where there is a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from a “point source” into “navigable waters.” As the USEPA draft guidance notes, the Court’s decision outlines “seven non-exclusive factors that regulators and the regulated community may consider in determining whether a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” exists in a particular circumstance. The draft guidance aims to place the functional equivalent standard “into context within existing NPDES permitting framework.” Additionally, the draft guidance “identifies an additional factor” relevant to the analysis. The draft guidance emphasizes that the County of Maui decision did not modify the two threshold conditions that trigger the requirements for a permit. These conditions are that there must be an actual discharge of a pollutant to a water of the United States, and that that discharge must be from a point source. “Instead, Maui clarified that an NPDES permit is required for only...

(State) Settlors Beware, Too: In Reversal, Third Circuit Declares that State Settlement Does Not Protect Against Federal Claims under CERCLA

Previously, the District of New Jersey ruled that a polluting party’s settlement agreement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) provided contribution protection from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) claims based on costs incurred by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) at the same site, even though USEPA was not a party to the settlement. In a prior blog post discussing that decision, we noted that the District Court’s decision was likely to be appealed. It was. On appeal, the Third Circuit considered the inquiry of “[w]hether a polluting party’s settlement with the State of New Jersey protects it from lawsuits seeking contributions toward expenditures made by the Federal Government on the same site,” and determined in a precedential opinion that, “the answer here is no.” CERCLA section 113(f)(2) provides that “[a] person who has resolved its liability to the United States or a State in an administrative or judicially approved settlement shall not be liable for claims for contribution regarding matters addressed in the settlement.” The District Court applied the analysis commonly adopted by other federal courts to determine the “matters addressed” of the previous settlement where the scope is not made explicit by the agreement itself. This analysis includes factors such as the location, time frame,...

New Jersey Files Six Lawsuits as Part of Its Environmental Justice Initiative

Last week, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced jointly the state’s filing of six environmental enforcement actions against alleged polluters in minority and low-income communities in various locations throughout the state. The filings are this administration’s latest action in its environmental justice initiative, as Gibbons has previously covered on this blog. The six lawsuits involve sites in Newark, East Orange, Camden, and two sites in Trenton. In these suits, the state brings claims under various New Jersey environmental statutes, including the Spill Compensation and Control Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, the Air Pollution Control Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, the Industrial Site Recovery Act, and the Brownfield and Contaminated Site Remediation Act. Per the joint press release, the lawsuits in Newark and Trenton “involve companies that released hazardous substances at their properties and refused to clean them up.” In Newark, the state seeks to require the defendants to investigate the extent of the contamination, to clean up the site, and to reimburse the state for over $500,000. For one of the Trenton sites, the state similarly seeks to compel the defendants to clean up the site and to reimburse the state for over $400,000. At the other Trenton site, the state...

U.S. Supreme Court Remands Clean Water Act Case to the Fourth Circuit for Further Consideration in Light of “Functional Equivalent” Test from County of Maui

The effects of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund have begun to ripple out. In County of Maui, the Court held that the Clean Water Act requires a permit where there is a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from a “point source” into “navigable waters.” The Court acknowledged the “difficulty with this approach” in dealing with the “middle instances,” and provided a non-exhaustive list of seven factors that may be considered in determining whether a “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” exists in a particular circumstance. “Time and distance will be the most important factors in most cases, but not necessarily in every case,” the Court guided. In Kinder Morgan Energy v. Upstate Forever, a Clean Water Act case seeking certiorari of a decision from the Fourth Circuit, the Supreme Court followed County of Maui by issuing an Order granting certiorari, vacating the Fourth Circuit’s decision, and remanding the case to the Court of Appeals for “further consideration in light of County of Maui.” In Kinder Morgan Energy, two environmental groups argued that Kinder Morgan was illegally discharging pollutants into navigable waters without a permit under the Clean Water Act. Similar to the facts of the Maui case, the discharge by Kinder Morgan was alleged to...

SCOTUS Creates “Functional Equivalent” Test to Determine Whether Point Source Dischargers Are Subject to the Clean Water Act

The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in the most prominent Clean Water Act (CWA) case since its 2006 plurality decision in Rapanos v. United States. In County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, the Court interpreted the landmark statute to require a permit where there is a “functional equivalent” of a direct discharge from a “point source” into “navigable waters.” The likely impact of this holding for the parties is to subject the County of Maui to the statute’s permitting requirements for its discharges of treated wastewater through wells to groundwater that eventually reach the ocean. Beyond the parties, environmental groups are likely to cheer this decision while the regulated community, and lower courts, will likely be wary of the Court’s multifactor test. The CWA prohibits the “addition” of any pollutant from a “point source” to “navigable waters” without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The County of Maui came before the Court as the operator of a wastewater reclamation facility in Maui, Hawaii. That facility collects sewage, partially treats it, then pumps that water into four underground wells. The effluent then travels about a half mile through groundwater to the Pacific Ocean. For nearly five decades the facility operated in this manner with the knowledge of the EPA, and...

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...

SCOTUS Provides Clarity to Charterers in Oil Spill Case and All Parties Subject to OPA Should Take Note

On March 30, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that will directly affect those in the maritime charter industry, and may ripple out to anyone performing a cleanup or defending a claim under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). The case began with a 1,900-mile voyage by the M/T Athos I, which was a 748-foot single-hulled oil tanker, from Venezuela to Paulsboro, New Jersey in November 2004. Only 900 feet from the ship’s intended destination, it struck a nine ton anchor that was abandoned in the Delaware River. The anchor pierced the hull of the vessel and caused over 250,000 gallons of crude oil to spill into the river, which resulted in a $133 million cleanup. Frescati Shipping Company, the owner of the ship, together with the United States, paid for the cleanup as required under OPA, and then sought its cleanup costs from the charterer, CITGO Asphalt Refining Company (“CARCO”). The question before the High Court was “whether the safe-berth clause is a warranty of safety, imposing liability for an unsafe berth regardless of CARCO’s diligence in selecting the berth.” Frescati and the U.S. argued that CARCO breached the charter-contract’s “safe-berth” clause, which obligated CARCO to designate a safe-berth where the ship would be able to come and go “always safely afloat.” CARCO,...