Tagged: USEPA

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.

Thomson West Releases 2020-2021 Update of Business Law Deskbook, With Two Environmental Law Chapters Authored By Gibbons Attorney

The recently released 2020-2021 update of the Thomson West New Jersey Business Law Deskbook includes chapters authored by Paul M. Hauge, Counsel in the Gibbons P.C. Environmental Law Department. Mr. Hauge authored Chapter 26, which discusses the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and Chapter 27, on New Jersey Environmental Law. The Deskbook, updated annually to reflect statutory, regulatory, and judicial developments, is designed to give attorneys user-friendly primers on roughly 40 areas of business law. Gibbons Environmental Law Department Director Susanne Peticolas pioneered the firm’s involvement with the Deskbook in 2003, authoring the Gibbons contributions until 2007 and sharing authorship with Mr. Hauge between 2008 and 2019.

USEPA Provides Draft Guidance on Application of “Functional Equivalent” Analysis for Clean Water Act Permitting Program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued a Draft Guidance Memorandum regarding how to apply the Supreme Court’s most recent Clean Water Act decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund from earlier this year.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 As the USEPA draft guidance notes, the Court’s decision outlines “seven non-exclusive factors that regulators and the regulated community may consider in determining whether a “functional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 The draft guidance aims to place the functional equivalent standard “into context within existing NPDES permitting framework.”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...

Jordan Asch to Participate in Upcoming NJSBA Panel Discussion – “Resolving Everyday Environmental Problems” – November 5

Jordan M. Asch, an Associate in the Gibbons Environmental Department, will participate in an upcoming panel discussion presented by the New Jersey State Bar Association, in cooperation with its Environmental Law Section. The panel, “Resolving Everyday Environmental Problems,” will take place virtually on Thursday, November 5 from 9:00 – 10:30 am. The discussion will cover some of the complex, and often expensive, environmental issues that small businesses and homeowners may face, including site remediation issues, funding sources, environmental permitting, and the permitting process. Attorneys who represent small business owners that own or lease real property, or that may develop or improve real property, as well as homeowners that may face environmental remediation or permitting issues are encouraged to attend. For additional information or to register, click here.

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...

Insurer Alleges Pollution Policy Void Because of Policyholder’s Failure to Disclose

AIG Specialty Insurance Co. (“AIG”) recently asserted in a New Jersey Federal District Court Complaint that it owes no coverage to Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (“Thermo Fisher”) for cleanup costs associated with contaminated groundwater at a facility owned by Thermo Fisher in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The crux of AIG’s claim is the fact that Thermo Fisher failed to disclose to AIG that the company had been monitoring groundwater pollution at its site for nearly three decades. AIG alleges the existence of two consent orders relating to groundwater contamination at the site and, more specifically, the presence of PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” detected in a wellfield affected by the site. Both of these consent orders were in existence when Thermo Fisher sought a pollution liability policy with AIG. AIG asserts that Thermo Fisher either knew or should have known about the groundwater pollution conditions at its facility and the claims against the facility by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) prior to seeking the pollution liability policy at issue, facts that should have been disclosed in the application. AIG alleges that Thermo Fisher’s failure to disclose these consent orders and the fact that the Thermo Fisher plant was part of a Superfund site is sufficient to trigger a number of exclusions in the pollution...

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.

(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,...

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...

Who’s in Charge Here?: Third Circuit Holds That Government Was Not an “Operator” of Jersey City Chromium Facility for Purposes of Superfund Liability

Federal courts have long struggled to determine the shape and boundaries of the wide liability net cast by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law. In its recent decision in PPG Industries Inc. v. United States, the Third Circuit applied circuit and Supreme Court precedent to hold that the government’s influence over a chromite ore processing plant in Jersey City during World War I and World War II was not pervasive or intrusive enough to make the government a past “operator” of the plant and thus liable for cleanup costs. Prior to PPG’s 1954 acquisition of the plant (which it continued to operate until 1963), Natural Products Refining Corporation (NPRC) operated the plant, which processed chromite ore into various chromium chemicals, including sodium bichromate. During both World War I and World War II (when it designated the plant’s output as critical war materials, i.e., products manufactured for direct military use), the government regulated the production of chromium chemicals. Through a variety of price, labor, and production controls, the government sought to encourage increased production of these key chemicals. Those efforts, however, did not extend to direct control over day-to-day operations or to the use of government employees to run the facility. Moreover, while the government was aware...