Category: Environmental and Green Issues

New Policy From DOJ Offers Predictability and Incentives to Self-Report Misconduct

Representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) announced on February 22, 2023, the immediate implementation of a new Voluntary Self-Disclosure Policy. This new policy was created in response to a September 2022 memorandum from the Deputy Attorney General, which requested that each component of the Department of Justice (DOJ) review its policies on corporate voluntary self-disclosure and revise or create a formal written policy that incentivizes such self-disclosure. The stated intention of the new policy is to provide transparency and predictability to companies and the defense bar concerning the benefits, and potential outcomes, in cases where companies voluntarily self-disclose misconduct, fully cooperate with the government, and remediate the misconduct in a timely and appropriate manner. In general, the policy requires that: (1) the disclosure of misconduct is made voluntarily (not to include instances where there is a pre-existing obligation to disclose, e.g., by regulation or contract); (2) the disclosure be made prior to an imminent threat of disclosure, prior to the misconduct being publicly disclosed, and within a reasonably prompt time after the company becomes aware of the misconduct; and (3) the disclosure includes all relevant facts concerning the misconduct that are known to the company. The incentives created by this new policy are significant and include the following: Absent the presence of aggravating...

New Enforcement Rules for New York City Environmental Remediation Programs

Owners and developers of sites enrolled in New York City’s environmental remediation programs should be aware of new enforcement rules. The rules provide for new reporting requirements and strengthened enforcement mechanisms and penalties. Background About New York City Environmental Remediation Programs The New York City (NYC) Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) manages NYC’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) and E-Designation Program (EDP). Under the VCP, environmental site investigations and remediations are conducted with OER oversight. After a site is remediated, OER issues a notice of completion (NOC), which provides that NYC “shall not take or require any further investigatory or remedial action” at the site.[1] The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is also unlikely to require further action at sites with NOCs, pursuant to a Memorandum of Agreement between NYSDEC and OER.[2] NOCs may be assigned to third parties, such as the purchaser of a site that has been cleaned up.[3] The VCP also provides other benefits, including hazardous waste fee exemptions and monetary grants. By contrast to the VCP, the EDP is a mandatory program. It applies to specific sites given “E-Designations” or similar Restrictive Declarations because of potential contamination or other issues identified during a zoning action. For instance, sites previously zoned only for manufacturing that have been rezoned to...

EPA Amending Standards for Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessments

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is set to amend the All Appropriate Inquiries Rule (AAI Rule), the standard for evaluating a property’s environmental conditions prior to purchase, which may impact a purchaser’s potential liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for any contamination discovered at the property. Those affected by this amendment include both public and private parties who are purchasing potentially contaminated properties and wish to establish a limitation on CERCLA liability as bona fide prospective purchasers, contiguous property owners, or innocent landowners. In addition, any entity conducting a site characterization or assessment on a property with funding from a brownfields grant awarded under CERCLA Section 104(k)(2)(B)(ii) may be affected by this action. The AAI Rule first went into effect in 2006 and has been subject to amendments since that time. The current amendments will become effective on February 13, 2023, and will reference a new standard – “ASTM E1527-21” – that may be used to satisfy the requirements for conducting all appropriate inquiries under CERCLA. Significant changes within the new standard include, but are not limited to: Revised and new definitions to make requirements clearer than the prior 2013 standard Requirements for more specific information related to the subject property’s use, as well as historical research related...

Appellate Division Rejects Judicial Review Upon Assertion of Good-Cause Defenses to an NJDEP Spill Act Directive Prior to Imposition of Direct Oversight

On January 9, 2023, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued its decision in In re N.J. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. Direct Oversight Determination, in which the court addressed whether good-cause defenses asserted by Solvay Specialty Polymers USA, LLC (“Solvay”) to a statewide directive had to be decided by a court before the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) could place it under direct supervision. Solvay has owned and operated a manufacturing plant along the Delaware River since 1990 (the “Site”). When Solvay was informed of sampling data establishing the presence of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), two specific per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), so-called “forever chemicals,” in the area near the Site, Solvay began investigating and remediating PFNA and PFOA that might be attributable to the Site. In September 2013, at the NJDEP’s request, Solvay entered into the NJDEP’s site remediation program and hired a licensed site remediation professional (LSRP) to oversee its remediation efforts. In March 2019, the NJDEP issued a Statewide PFAS Directive to Solvay and other entities, in which the NJDEP determined that Solvay is responsible for PFNA and PFOA contamination arising from the Site, which has contaminated the Site and surrounding areas, including the state’s natural resources. The Statewide PFAS Directive provided detailed steps to be taken by...

Back to the Future, or Forward to the Past? EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Release New Clean Water Act New Rule Revising Definition of “Waters of the United States”

Ever since the enactment in 1972 of the modern Clean Water Act (a comprehensive amendment of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act), courts, agencies, and landowners have struggled to define the statute’s geographic scope, especially with respect to wetlands, which do not fit neatly within familiar notions of “water” or “land.” Landowners often confront this issue because the statute prohibits unpermitted discharges of pollutants (including fill material) into “navigable waters,” but defines that term broadly as “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas,” which includes some, but not all, areas that scientists would deem to be wetlands. In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released the latest chapter in this five-decade-long saga, in the form of a new 514-page rule defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). The rule was officially promulgated via publication in the Federal Register on January 18, and will become effective 60 days later. The new WOTUS rule is the product of a rulemaking process spurred by a January 2021 executive order signed by President Biden that directed all agencies to review regulations and take appropriate action to address those that might conflict with policies of science-based decision-making. (86 Fed. Reg. 7037 (Jan. 25, 2021)). It replaces the Trump...

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.

NJDEP Posts Guidance for Prospective Purchasers of Contaminated Sites to Obtain Adjustments to Direct Oversight Requirements

On September 9, 2022, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued its Pre-Purchase Administrative Consent Order Guidance through the NJDEP’s Contaminated Site Remediation & Redevelopment Program. The guidance document explains how prospective purchasers of contaminated sites subject to Direct Oversight can obtain a Pre-Purchase Administrative Consent Order (ACO), allowing for adjustments to Direct Oversight requirements. Under the Site Remediation Reform Act, if the person responsible for conducting remediation of a contaminated site fails to complete the investigation and remediation within mandatory timeframes, the NJDEP automatically places the site into Direct Oversight. The Direct Oversight requirements are a more prescriptive remediation process for the person responsible for conducting remediation. Some of the Direct Oversight requirements include: NJDEP selection of the remedial action for the site; NJDEP approval of each document submitted by a licensed site remediation professional; establishment of a remediation funding source in the amount needed to complete remediation; performance of a remedial action feasibility study for NJDEP approval; and compliance with an NJDEP-approved public participation plan. Once a potential buyer of a site closes on a contaminated property subject to Direct Oversight, the potential buyer becomes a person “in any way responsible” for remediating the site pursuant to the Spill Compensation and Control Act (“Spill Act”). By entering into a Pre-Purchase ACO,...

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?