Tagged: Remediation

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?

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....

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...

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...

That Mine Is Yours, Not Theirs: Ninth Circuit Holds That WWII Shutdown Order Did Not Make Federal Government the CERCLA “Operator” of California Gold Mine

One perennially vexing issue for federal courts in cases brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law, is what makes someone an “operator” of a facility, and thus strictly (and, in most cases, jointly and severally) liable for cleanup costs. In particular, what degree and nature of control over a facility exercised by the government make it an operator? (We recently blogged on this issue.) In its recent decision in United States v. Sterling Centrecorp Inc., a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit held that a World War II-era federal order that shut down a gold mine in California did not give the government sufficient control over the operations of the mine to make it a CERCLA operator. Upon entering World War II, the United States faced a serious shortage of nonferrous metals, especially copper, and a corresponding shortage of the machinery and materials needed to produce them. Scarce resources needed to be redirected from nonessential operations to essential ones, and gold mines, such as the Lava Cap mine in Nevada County, California, were deemed nonessential. An order of the War Production Board required the mine to cease operations in 1943. While the order was revoked in 1945, operations at the mine never resumed. It was...

Pre-SRRA? SRRA!: NJDEP Clarifies Applicability of SRRA to Pre-SRRA Cleanup Orders and Agreements

In a listserv published on September 10, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has once again made clear that the innovative requirements of the 2009 Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA), including the requirement to retain a licensed site remediation professional (LSRP), apply to any cleanup being performed under an administrative consent order (ACO) or remediation agreement (RA) that predates the enactment of SRRA on November 4, 2009. (SRRA was amended last year in what some commentators termed “SRRA 2.0.”) The NJDEP release, which supersedes a 2012 listserv on the same subject, confirms that (except for cleanups at certain federal facilities or sites being addressed under federal statutes) all parties conducting remediation work must retain an LSRP, even if they are subject to a pre-SRRA ACO or RA. NJDEP will hold in abeyance all ACO/RA requirements regarding departmental pre-approval of reports and work plans, as well as any deadlines contained in the order or agreement. Remediating parties must instead meet all regulatory and mandatory timeframes in NJDEP’s regulations. Other requirements in the ACO/RA will remain in effect, including those relating to a remediation funding source (RFS), RFS surcharges, and stipulated penalties. The new listserv also clarifies that SRRA overrides any termination provision in a pre-SRRA ACO or RA. NJDEP will not terminate an...

(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,...