Category: Environmental and Green Issues

NJ Seeks to Expand Reach of the Spill Act in PCB Contamination Suit Against Monsanto and Others

On August 4, 2022, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued a press release announcing a lawsuit of sweeping, breathtaking scope against Monsanto, Solutia, and Pharmacia ─ all linked to the original Monsanto (“Old Monsanto”), which reorganized its businesses into three separate corporations in the late 1990s ─ seeking natural resource damages (NRDs) for polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination across the entire state of New Jersey. Old Monsanto formerly operated a large industrial facility in Bridgeport, an unincorporated community in Logan Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey (the “Bridgeport Site”). In addition to the claims for statewide PCB contamination, the complaint seeks NRDs and other relief in connection with the Bridgeport Site. The suit alleges the three defendants contaminated the area in and around the Bridgeport Site through discharges of many chemicals, including PCBs, over decades of operations at that site. PCBs are a class of toxic synthetic organic chemical compounds that enter the environment by escaping their intended applications, passing into water bodies, sediment, and soils. In a statement announcing the suit, Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said that “PCBs contamination has harmed natural resources and threatened the health of humans and wildlife in every corner of New Jersey . . . includ[ing] many environmental justice communities ─ communities throughout our State that...

NJDEP Issues Rule Proposal Implementing Environmental Justice Legislation

On June 6, 2022, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued its proposed rule (“Rule Proposal”) implementing regulations under the groundbreaking Environmental Justice Law (“EJ Law”) signed by Governor Phil Murphy in September of 2020, which we reported on at that time. The EJ Law requires the NJDEP to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on vulnerable communities (referred to as Overburdened Communities (“OBCs”)) when reviewing certain permit applications. We also reported that on October 22, 2020, the NJDEP began the public process of developing regulations to implement the requirements under the EJ Law. The Rule Proposal was the culmination of an extensive and lengthy public process that included numerous meetings with various stakeholders. The next step is a 90-day public comment period expiring on September 4, 2022, during which time the NJDEP will hold four public hearings in the month of July. In the EJ Law, the Legislature had determined that all residents of the state of New Jersey, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, have a right to live, work, learn, and recreate in a clean and healthy environment. The Legislature further found that the OBCs have been, and continue to be, subject to a disproportionately high number of environmental and public health stressors,...

No, That Doesn’t Settle It: U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Which Types of Settlements Trigger CERCLA Contribution Rights

The complex and overlapping nature of the three different routes to recovering cleanup costs under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) has bedeviled courts for decades. This month, in Territory of Guam v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court answered one very narrow question: What kind of a settlement with the government gives a settling party the right to bring an action for contribution against a non-settlor?

USEPA Relaunches Climate Indicators Website

In a press release issued on May 12, 2021, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced the relaunching of its climate change indicators website. The website is a valuable resource for land planners, scientists, policy makers, students, and the general public, providing extensive peer reviewed data gathered from more than 50 partners in governmental agencies, academic institutions, and other data collectors. The data, stretching over decades, is enhanced by interactive graphs, maps, trend analysis, and condition tracking tools.

NJDEP Amends Site Remediation Standards

Via a New Jersey Register notice published on May 17, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has amended the remediation standards that govern all cleanups in the state. It is the most sweeping revision of the standards since they were first adopted in 2008. NJDEP proposed the amendments in April 2020 and held a virtual public hearing on July 21, 2020. During an extended public comment period, NJDEP received more than 270 public comments on its proposal. The proposal itself was preceded by a series of stakeholder sessions stretching back to 2014. The rulemaking makes significant changes to the remediation standards, including: The creation of separate residential and non-residential soil remediation standards for the ingestion-dermal and inhalation exposure pathways; formerly, the applicable standard was the more stringent of the two, but now both pathways will need to be considered. The adoption of new soil remediation standards for the migration to groundwater exposure pathway, replacing the former site-specific approach based on NJDEP guidance with enforceable standards. The adoption of new standards for soil leachate (for the migration to groundwater exposure pathway) and indoor air (for the vapor intrusion exposure pathway); the vapor intrusion standards replace the former screening levels based on NJDEP guidance. The tightening of some standards and the loosening of others....

Show Me the Study: New Jersey Appellate Division Reverses Verdict in Talcum Powder Tort Case Because Causation Testimony of Plaintiffs’ Experts Had No Scientific Basis

Whether in environmental litigation (as we reported here) or in tort cases, expert testimony is often required to explain complex scientific concepts and, crucially, to establish a causal connection between exposure to a given substance and an adverse health or environmental effect. In its recent decision in Lanzo v. Cyprus Amax Minerals Company, the New Jersey Appellate Division reminded litigants of the importance of the court’s “gatekeeping” function when it tossed out a nine-figure judgment because the trial court had admitted testimony from the plaintiffs’ experts that lacked a proper scientific basis. The appellate court also held that the trial court had erred when it denied the motion for a separate trial of one defendant who was likely harmed by an adverse inference instruction that was required because of another defendant’s spoliation of important evidence. The plaintiffs, a husband and wife, had sued Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (JJCI), Imerys Talc America, Inc. (Imerys), and a large number of other defendants in 2016, alleging that the husband had contracted mesothelioma from his use of JJCI’s talcum powder products. Imerys had acquired a business that supplied talc to JJCI in 2011. The key issues in the case were whether the talc used by JJCI contained asbestos, which is known to cause mesothelioma, and whether certain other...

Gibbons Attorneys’ Offshore Wind Article Published by ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources Quarterly Magazine

“New Jersey’s Plan to Become the National Capital of Offshore Wind,” authored by Gibbons environmental attorneys Susanne Peticolas and Christopher Cavaiola, appeared in the Spring edition of Natural Resources and Environment, the quarterly magazine of the ABA’s Section of Environment and Energy Resources. New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy and his administration have made combating climate change a key priority in the State since his election. Governor Murphy has unveiled arguably his most ambitious plan to date, introducing plans in June that would make New Jersey the hub of the eastern seaboard’s offshore wind industry. The article explores how Governor Phil Murphy plans to do this and examines the relevant state and federal policy and legal implications of same. Click here [Link 1] to read the article.

USEPA Creates PFAS Council

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they are persistent and resistant to degradation. They have been used in a wide variety of everyday products and are found in detergents, non-stick pans, stain-resistant and waterproof fabrics, fragrances, drugs, disinfectants, pesticides, and fire-fighting foam. PFAS comprise more than 4,700 compounds. Many of them have been identified as potential environmental or public health risks.

Sez Who? Appellate Division Questions Expert’s Qualifications to Testify in Spill Act Case

New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act (“Spill Act”) makes dischargers of hazardous substances, as well as persons “in any way responsible” for the discharged hazardous substances, liable in contribution to a person who remediates the discharge. Since the statute’s enactment in 1976, courts have often been called on to define limits on the category of parties who can be held responsible, especially the vague sub-category of persons “in any way responsible.” In its recent unpublished decision in Dorrell v. Woodruff Energy, Inc., the Appellate Division held that a supplier could not be held liable as a person “in any way responsible” simply for delivering fuel to the site in question. Reviewing the evidence presented in the trial court about another defendant’s potential liability, the court provided important guidance for both plaintiffs and defendants on the appropriate role of expert witnesses in Spill Act cases. The plaintiff, Sandra Dorrell, owned a store in Alloway Township. When she sought to sell the property, she discovered petroleum contamination in the soil and groundwater. She filed suit in 2011 to seek contribution from the parties she considered responsible for the contamination: Woodruff Energy, Inc. (“Woodruff”), Gulf Oil Limited Partnership (“Gulf”), and Chevron U.S.A. Inc. (“Chevron”), Gulf’s successor. The case had been to the Appellate Division once already, resulting...

NJDEP Extends Some Deadlines for Remediation Activities

In light of the disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has again extended certain deadlines (or, in the language of the relevant statutes and regulations, timeframes) for the completion of various remediation activities at contaminated sites. On February 1, 2021, NJDEP issued a Notice of Rule Waiver/Modification/Suspension pursuant to Executive Order No. 103, which was issued on March 9, 2020. It follows similar notices issued on April 24, 2020 and August 17, 2020. The new notice extends some regulatory and mandatory timeframes reached during the effective period of Executive Order 103 for a total of 455 days (including the prior 270-day extensions), with corresponding extensions of subsequent timeframes. For remediations subject to the statutory timeframes in N.J.S.A. 58:10C-27 and -27.1, requiring completion of the remedial investigation by May 7, 2014 or May 7, 2016, it extends the timeframe for completing the remedial action from May 6, 2021 to May 6, 2022. Parties seeking to benefit from the extensions must have retained a licensed site remediation professional (LSRP). While surely not among the most significant effects of the pandemic, these changes in remediation timeframes are among the hardest to follow. Parties conducting (or even simply monitoring) remediation projects, their counsel, and their LSRPs would do well to keep...