Tagged: Water Pollution

NJDEP Solicits Input as It Begins Process of Drafting Regulations to Implement Landmark Environmental Justice Legislation

As we reported, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed the nation’s first environmental justice law, which seeks to address the unfair distribution of the environmental and public health impacts of polluting activities by imposing additional requirements on parties seeking to site, expand, or renew permits for various types of facilities in “overburdened communities,” which are defined in the statute in terms of economic and demographic criteria. The statute requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to promulgate regulations to implement its requirements. NJDEP began the public process of developing those regulations on October 22 when Olivia Glenn, Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity, and Sean Moriarty, Chief Advisor for Regulatory Affairs, hosted an online public information session in which they sought the public’s input on how the regulations should address numerous definitional and procedural issues. (The statute will not take effect until NJDEP promulgates its regulations.) Companies seeking to obtain or renew certain NJDEP permits for new or expanded facilities that fall within the statute’s scope and are located in overburdened communities must prepare an “environmental justice impact statement” and provide for expanded public hearings on their project. In addition to applying the requirements of other applicable statutes and regulations, NJDEP must then determine if the proposed new or expanded facility...

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...

New Jersey Governor Signs Environmental Justice Legislation

On September 18, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation intended to address the disproportionate environmental and public health impacts of pollution on overburdened communities. The legislation, versions of which have been proposed several times over the past decade, imposes additional requirements on companies seeking permits for new or expanded facilities under a variety of environmental statutes. It also requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to evaluate how the proposed permitted activities would impact those communities determined to be “overburdened” under the new law. Earlier this summer, marking the “Juneteenth” anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the United States, Governor Murphy had indicated his support for the legislation, which some environmental advocates have dubbed the “holy grail” of the environmental justice movement. Although critics of the law raised concerns about its effect on manufacturing and business investment in New Jersey, the bill passed the state legislature in late August, with votes of 49-28-1 in the state Assembly and 21-14 in the state Senate. The types of facilities covered by the new law include certain power plants, incinerators, sewage treatment plants, solid waste facilities, and landfills, as well as other facilities deemed to be “major sources of air pollution” (as determined by the federal Clean Air Act). Governor Murphy stated that,...

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...

NJ Governor Supports Additional NJDEP Permitting Requirements to Address Environmental Justice Concerns

On June 19, 2020, Governor Murphy announced his support for proposed legislation that would require the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and permit applicants, to take additional steps prior to permits being issued for new or expanded facilities under a wide variety of state environmental statutes. The proposed legislation, which aims to protect those communities that historically have been most impacted by pollution from industrial and related activities, would require the NJDEP to publish and maintain a list of those communities determined to be “overburdened.” In the proposed legislation, “overburdened community” is defined as: “any census block group, as determined in accordance with the most recent United States Census, in which at least one half of the households qualify as low income households, and either: (1) at least 40 percent of the residents of the census block group identify as Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino, or as members of a State-recognized tribal community; or (2) at least 40 percent of the households in the census block group have limited English proficiency.” Prior to approval of covered permit applications, an applicant would be required to assess and prepare an environmental impact statement to outline both the existing environmental and health stressors already borne by the relevant community, as well as any additional impacts...

New Jersey Publishes Formal Stringent Drinking Water Standards for PFOA and PFOS

On June 1, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officially published health-based drinking water standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). These chemicals have received serious attention from the environmental community in the last several years due to increasing science that has confirmed the harmful impact of PFOA/PFOS on human health and the environment. These new more stringent rules, published in the New Jersey Register, set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) at: 14 parts per trillion for PFOA and 13 parts per trillion for PFOS. The DEP also added PFOA and PFOS to the state’s list of hazardous substances. Site remediation activities and regulated discharges to groundwater of PFOA and PFOS will now have to comply with these new standards. These new formal standards establish a regulatory framework that will provide consistency in remediation activities statewide. It is important to note that PFOA and PFOS are just two of potentially thousands of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS). To date Vermont and New Hampshire are the only other two states to set MCLs for PFAS. New York is working on similar standards. New Jersey issued a standard of 13 parts per trillion for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in 2018. The federal government has not yet established MCLs for PFAS. While there...

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...

NJDEP Proposes to Reclassify 749 Miles of Waterways to Highly Protected Antidegradation Status in First Such Move Since 2008

For the first time since 2008, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has proposed to amend its surface water quality standards to prohibit degradation of water quality in additional rivers and streams that did not previously enjoy such protection. The current proposal, which was released on March 4, would lift hundreds of miles of waterways to a more protected status as Category One waters. NJDEP’s water quality standards, found at N.J.A.C. 7:9B, have several components. The standards designate uses for all waters of the State, and prescribe water quality criteria (e.g., minimum levels of dissolved oxygen, and maximum levels of suspended solids and various toxics) necessary to allow for those uses. In addition, the standards establish three tiers of “antidegradation” designations. The highest tier consists of “outstanding natural resource waters,” so designated because of their unique ecological significance or because they are within the Pinelands, must be maintained in their natural state. Category One waters, occupying the second tier, are protected from any measurable change in their existing water quality. Water quality in Category Two waters, the third tier, may be lowered, but only with social and/or economic justification for the change. NJDEP’s proposal, which was first presented at a stakeholders meeting on January 17, would move 749 miles of waterways from Category...

We Have to Talk: New Jersey Appellate Division Invalidates Discharge Permit for Failure of Agency to Consult with Highlands Council

In the latest twist in a saga that began in 2002, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) failure to consult with the Highlands Council invalidated a wastewater discharge permit that DEP had issued to the prospective developer of a site located in the “planning area” covered by the state’s Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (Highlands Act). As a result, the story is guaranteed to continue for several more months and perhaps, in light of likely appeals, several more years. Bellemead Development Corporation first received a New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit for the discharge of treated wastewater from a planned development in Tewksbury in 1998. In 2002, with the permit set to expire the next year, Bellemead applied for a renewal of its original permit. DEP’s denial of the application in 2006 set in motion a chain of administrative hearings, apparent settlements, and new applications that culminated in DEP’s issuance of a new permit in 2014. The Township of Readington and several citizen groups appealed. The appellants pointed to a number of procedural missteps by DEP, but the court focused on the department’s failure to consult the Highlands Council prior to issuing the permit. The Council was created by the 2004 Highlands Act, which regulates...