Category Archives: Cost Recovery

CERCLA Cost Recovery v. Contribution Again: It’s Still Unfair

Parties in CERCLA cases continue to deal with the consequences of the Supreme Court decisions in Aviall and Atlantic Research which essentially created two classes of PRPs: (1) PRPs who entered into CERCLA settlements with the federal or state government and were limited to Section 113(f) CERCLA contribution claims with three year statute of limitations and (2) PRPs who were permitted to pursue cost recovery claims under Section 107 of CERCLA with joint and several liability and a six year statute of limitations. A recent decision by a federal court in the Southern District of New York, More

Settling Parties In Government Consent Orders Have CERCLA Claims For Contribution Not Cost Recovery

To the extent there was any remaining uncertainty, the Sixth Circuit has now made crystalline that a party settling some or all of its liability under CERCLA with the United States or a state has a contribution claim under Section 113 and not a cost recovery action under Section 107. Additionally, that contribution claim must be brought within three years of the date of any judgment entering the settlement or of any administrative order memorializing the settlement. No “if, ands, or buts.”

The Sixth Circuit decision was Hobart Corporation v. Waste Management of Ohio, Inc. It involved three PRPs… More

The Emerging Non-Expansive View of CERCLA Liability: The Decline of Tanglewood East

The specter of environmental harm used to frighten courts and spawned a generation of decisions extending Superfund liability to virtually any party with a nexus to a site that was contaminated.   One case that signaled just how willing courts were to impose a broad view of environmental liability was the 1988 decision by the Fifth Circuit in Tanglewood East Homeowners v. Charles-Thomas, Inc..  In that case, the court affirmed that a CERCLA cause of action could be stated merely by alleging that a former owner which did not know that its property was contaminated had graded and filled that property as part of a residential development project.    

That courts take a different approach to environmental claims… More

When Does the Statute of Limitations Run on CERCLA Claims? No, Never? Well, Hardly Ever

In State of New York v. Next Millenium Realty, decided earlier this week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed the wisdom of Gilbert and Sullivan.  It is very difficult to blow the statute of limitations in CERCLA cases.

The question before the court was whether New York could recover from PRPs the cost of a granulated activated carbon (GAC) system and an air stripper tower, installed in 1990 and 1995, to ensure that municipal wells serving the Town of Hempstead were safe to drink, notwithstanding the presence of contamination, ultimately shown to have been caused at the New… More

When Is An Arranger Not An Arranger? When It Sells Some Good Stuff Along With The Junk

As Superfund lawyers know, the Supreme Court decision in Burlington Northern required proof of an intent to dispose hazardous substances as a prerequisite to imposition of arranger liability.  While lower courts have often blissfully ignored the holdings in Supreme Court decisions under CERCLA, arranger liability seems to be one area in which the lower courts have taken the Supreme Court decision to heart.

In any event, while I have been pleased that lower courts have applied the rule in Burlington Northern, the arranger liability decision last week in United States v. D.S.C. of Newark Enterprises suggests to… More

CERCLA Liability For Relocation of Hazardous Waste — Is There Any Limit?

Just as tortfeasors take their victims as they find them, s0 PRPs take their hazardous waste sites as they find them.   This rule has been around since the beginning of CERCLA and means that a party which arranges for the disposal of its waste at one location can be generally be held responsible for whatever response costs that waste generates, including environmental cleanup costs at a second location if that waste is transshipped without the knowledge of the PRP.

This issue recently arose in an “unpublished” CERCLA decision in New Jersey, Epec Polymers, Inc. v. NL Industries, Inc.    There, a PRP had been dumping radiological… More

Superfund Liability for the Repair of a Useful Product

A few months ago, I blogged on the decision in Duke Energy Progress Inc. v. Alcan Aluminum Corporation where a court held that a company would not be held liable for selling used transformers to a recycling facility for refurbishing and eventual resale to a new user.   At the center of that holding was the notion that the transformers were not leaking PCB oils when delivered to the recycling center and could be refurbished in the exercise of due care without causing a release of  PCBs.

The court recently issued a follow up decision in which it declined to apply its ruling… More

What Response Costs Are Necessary Under CERCLA

In a post last year, I discussed what I I thought was the dubious dismissal of  a CERCLA cost recovery action in Stratford Holding, LLC v. Fog Cap Retail Investors LLC.   That case involved a holding that the costs of  investigating the presence of solvents in the groundwater above regulatory standards were not   “necessary” response costs because the the state had declined to list the site on its Hazardous Sites Inventory.  In a short, unpublished opinion, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned the district court decision and correctly ruled that the failure of a state to list a site on its Hazardous Sites… More

CERCLA’s Act of War Defense — Potential Collateral Damage

For the first time in CERCLA’s history, a court has concluded that a Superfund claim was barred by the “act of war” defense.  In that case, In Re September 11 Litigation, the judge ruled that a property owner a block from Ground Zero could not recover the costs of cleaning up dust on his building from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers because the dust resulted from an act of war.   The judge had originally dismissed the case on statute of limitations grounds and the absence of a “release” within the meaning of CERCLA, but the Second Circuit remanded the matter for a determination whether… More

Unstated Rule on Superfund Liability for Sale of a Usable Product — One Year Later

Exactly a year ago, I posted a blog that argued that the decisions on Superfund liability for the sale of usable product could be distilled down to an “unstated rule” — a party will be held liable as having intended to arrange for the disposal of a hazardous substance if it sells a waste that cannot be used or won’t be used as delivered without first causing the release of a hazardous substance.  One year later, that rule still seems to be correct and still is unstated (except here).

The most recent court to wrestle with this issue was Carolina… More

CERCLA Cost Recovery or Contribution Claim: Another Judicial Misstep

The chaos unleashed by Aviall continues in a recent decision by the Seventh Circuit.  In Bernstein v. Blankert, the Seventh Circuit revisited the issue whether a party having entered into an Administrative Order by Consent had a claim against other PRPs for cost recovery under Section 107(a) or for contribution under Section 113(f)(1).   Offering a novel and entirely misguided conclusion, the court found that whether a party has a claim for cost recovery or for contribution hinges on whether that party had completed all of its obligations under the AOC.  

According to the Seventh Circuit, CERCLA provides that a party has a contribution action when it (1) is… More

Is CERCLA More Reasonable Than the Common Law? Only in California, I Hope

In Burlington Northern, the Supreme Court made clear that, in order to impose liability on a defendant as an “arranger” under Superfund for the sale of a product, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant

must have entered into the sale of [the product] with the intention that at least a portion of the product be disposed during the transfer process.

Although courts do not seem thus far to have taken to heart the Supreme Court’s allocation discussion in Burlington Northern, there is growing evidence that the arranger discussion is taking hold in the lower courts.  I… More

Another Dispatch From the Guidance Front: Is EPA’s Vapor Intrusion Guidance Ready For Prime Time?

A story in Tuesday’s BNA Daily Environment Report notes that several representatives of industry interests are asking EPA to hold off on issuing its much-anticipated vapor intrusion guidance until it can be subject to public comment.  Apparently, the current draft was sent to regional offices – but not distributed to the public – for review.  Someone at Inside EPA leaked it to Fox Rothschild and asked for comment.  Fox Rothschild attorneys then submitted a letter to EPA requesting a formal opportunity for public comment.

To me, the episode illustrates what I’ll humbly call Jaffe’s Iron… More

Is There A De Minimis Defense To Liability in Superfund? The Supreme Court Indicated There Was; One District Court Says No.

Burlington Northern squarely decided that where environmental harm is divisible, an individual PRP can obtain apportionment of its liability and be assigned a specific percentage share; in such instances, there will be no joint and several liability.  The possibility follows from Burlington Northern that a PRP which can establish divisibility of harm might be able to show that its percentage share of liability is so small that it effectively has a complete defense to  liability.

That precise issue came up in the most recent decision in the Lower Fox River Superfund matter.  There, several PRPs had disposed of PCBs upgradient of an operable unit in the Lower Fox… More

Winning the Superfund Remedy Fight in Court: Don’t Count On It

Remedy decisions are almost always won or lost at the agency level.  Once the ROD issues, a PRP’s chance of having the selected remedy overturned in court is slim to none – a point that was driven home in a recent decision in the Lower Fox River case.

There, the government had engaged in a decade-long remedy selection process which began as a $325 million PCB dredging project.  When the estimated costs of that dredging program skyrocketed, the government voluntarily amended the ROD at the PRPs’ request to utilize capping as well as dredging.   When the estimated costs of that capping and dredging… More

Aviall’s Continuing Impact on PRP Settlements in Superfund

Over a decade after it was issued, Aviall continues to cause difficulties for private settling parties in CERCLA.  In Lewis v. Russell, a federal district court recently considered whether a PRP which agreed to a cash payment from another PRP has to reduce his claim against other PRPs by the actual amount of the cash payment or by the proportionate share of the settling party.  Prior to Aviall, all settlements between PRPs were for contribution under Section 113(f)(1) and not for cost-recovery under Section 107; hence, settlements with one PRP did not affect the rights of other PRPs since a PRP could never be required… More

EPA Issues Two New Superfund Guidance Documents: Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est La Meme Chose

EPA recently released two guidance documents relevant to Superfund practitioners.  One establishes revised procedures regarding how EPA will manage negotiations with PRPs.  The second updates EPA’s guidance on how it will handle Alternative Sites. To me, both have the flavor of deck chair management on the Titanic.

The RD/RA negotiation guidance has to be seen to be believed. It’s a document that seems reasonable on its face, but when you step back and take a big picture look, you have to ask whether there isn’t something wrong with a program requiring a 10-page set of details regarding the timeline for how to negotiate a… More

Indemnification Agreements Under CERCLA Do Not Affect Liability to Entities That Are Not Parties to the Agreement

Section 107(e) of CERCLA provides that

No indemnification, hold harmless, or similar agreement or conveyance shall be effective to transfer from the owner or operator of any vessel or facility or from any person who may be liable for a release or threat of release under this section, to any other person the liability imposed under this section. Nothing in this subsection shall bar any agreement to insure, hold harmless, or indemnify a party to such agreement for any liability under this section.

It’s always been understood that the first sentence of § 107(e) means that one cannot contract away… More

Selling Water-Based Superfund Liabilities – A Toxic Brew

In a poignant moment in Godfather III, Al Pacino’s character says: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”. EPA’s recent eye-popping announcement of a $366 million encore settlement by AVX with respect to the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site re-enacts that moment, graphically illustrating the toxic combination of EPA’s sorry history of escalating remedy costs for water-based Superfund sites and Consent Decrees that contain cost-reopening provisions.

In 1992, AVX paid $66 million to resolve its New Bedford Harbor liability. Unfortunately AVX’s Consent Decree contained a cost reopener triggered if response costs exceeded… More

The Case For a Broad Pre-Emption Rule for CERCLA Contribution

Although some of the proposed tax plans and budgets being discussed in this election year suggest that the same dollar can be counted and spent multiple times, a growing number of courts have held that CERCLA response costs can only be allocated once. The most recent holding comes in the Lower Fox River litigation where Judge Greisbach ruled that CERCLA pre-empts most ancillary state law claims – whether styled as state law contribution claims or common law claims for negligence and strict liability: “If the funds were expended pursuant to CERCLA, and if CERCLA itself provides a scheme… More

More Evidence That the Government No Longer Automatically Wins Superfund Cases: New Jersey Requires Proof of a Nexus Between a Discharge and Response Costs

As I have previously noted, government attorneys’ traditional approach to litigating Superfund cases has been to announce that they represent the government and that they therefore win. There was hope, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Burlington Northern, that those days were nearing an end.

It is clear to me, following too many cases after Burlington Northern, that the government remains of the view that it is entitled to win these cases just by showing up. This hubris was evident recently in a decision rendered under the New Jersey Spill Act. In NJDEP v. Dimant, the… More

CERCLA and Original Sin – Who Has to Pay for Other People’s Contamination

In an environmental dispute between innocents involving a Church and a downgradient property owner, a federal court recently found the Church, although without original sin, was less innocent and should bear all the costs of the cleanup, even the costs of cleaning up an independent source of contamination on the downgradient property. In Alprof Realty LLC v. Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Church had bought a property with knowledge that it was contaminated. The Church cleaned up the source on its property and was investigating groundwater contamination on… More

CERCLA Investigations That Really Are At Risk

Site owners who conduct environmental investigations of potential releases of hazardous substances in the expectation that they will be able to recover their costs from the party whose operations gave rise to that threatened release may be surprised by the outcome in a recent federal district case in Georgia, Stratford Holding, LLC v. Fog Cap Retail Investors LLC. There, a site owner brought CERCLA and state law claims against a tenant and subtenant for dry cleaning operations after the owner’s sampling showed over 2 ppm of tetrachloroethylene (PCE), in soil and 56 ppb in groundwater.

The court granted… More

The Dismal History of Superfund’s Water Body Sites

An article in the New York Times earlier this week reported on EPA’s attempts under the Superfund program to address contamination in water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and harbors. Although the article acknowledges that these water body sites are technically challenging, it does not remotely capture the tortured regulatory history of these sites or the dubious remedial approach that EPA is now pursuing. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most notorious Superfund failures involve water body sites.

Typical of the course of water body sites under the Superfund program is the More

CERCLA Apportionment: Volume Isn’t Always King

PRPs hoping that the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern had established that volume could always be used as a basis for apportioning CERCLA liability will be disappointed by a recent Seventh Circuit opinion.  Affirming the trial court’s apportionment decision in the Lower Fox River case on which I blogged earlier, the Seventh Circuit distinguished Burlington Northern and followed the Restatement test that apportionment is not available whenever each tortfeasor’s contribution is independently capable of causing the harm.  According to the court, the discharge of PCBs into the Lower Fox River by multiple PRPs was akin… More

Is Knowledge an Element of CERCLA Liaiblity: The Lower Fox River Court Said So, But Did The Court Really Mean It?

The course of the Lower Fox River Superfund litigation has been a continual set of surprises, and its denouement was true to that pattern. In his post-trial decision last week, Judge Griesbach wrote the sentence that most CERCLA defendants have been waiting 30 years to hear: “It … seems doubtful that a defendant can ever be found to be an arranger if he did not know the substance in question is hazardous.” For a statute in which liability has always been held to be strict and without fault, a judicial pronouncement that liability hinges on the defendant’s knowledge is… More

Apportionment in CERCLA — No Bright Line Test

The Lower Fox River Superfund site continues to pump out decisions on key CERCLA issues. Most recently, the federal court in Wisconsin in US v. NCR Corp. took on the issue of divisibility of harm in granting a preliminary injunction requiring one of the PRPs, NCR, to complete the removal of 660,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments from a portion of the Lower Fox River. In entering that injunction, the court rejected NCR’s argument that the harm was divisible, even though NCR presented expert evidence that it was responsible for only 9% of the PCBs in this portion… More

Third Time May Be The Charm in the Lower Fox River PCB Superfund Matter

It’s always satisfying to find an open-minded judge who is willing to change his decision when he is shown to be wrong, but Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin may be crossing the line from open-mindedness into a chronic inability to make up his mind. In the past 9 months, Judge Greisbach has issued three separate decisions in US v. NCR on the subject of whether a party, Appleton Papers, Inc., which purchased assets from an alleged polluting party, NCR Corp., can be held to have successor liability under CERCLA with respect to the PCB contamination of the… More

CERCLA’s Easily Confused Statutes of Limitations

Deciding statute of limitations issues in CERCLA cases is not always a straightforward matter as the recent 54 page opinion in American Premier Underwriters Inc. v. General Electric Company illustrates.   There, a federal court in Ohio was faced with the unenviable task of trying to determine whether remedial actions and removal actions at four separate railroad sites located in four different states were barred by statutes of limitations under CERCLA and state law.  Unfortunately, the court seems to have surrendered its common sense in its close reasoning of the facts and the case… More

Post Aviall Settlement Jurisprudence — Back to the Future

Over the first two decades of CERCLA, the rule gradually emerged that parties which settled their liability were restricted to contribution claims under Section 113(f)(1) and would be entitled to contribution protection under Section 113(f)(c)(2). Moreover, in order to ensure the effectiveness of that settlement scheme, courts routinely ruled that claims against settling parties were all barred by contribution protection regardless whether those claims had been asserted in the form of direct CERCLA cost recovery claims under Section 107 or as common law tort claims for negligence, nuisance, or trespass. E.g., Cannons Engineering.

In 2004, the Supreme Court… More

The Unstated Liability Rule For the Sale Of Usable Wastes

Arguments about liability for the sale of “usable wastes” are as old as Superfund. The fact patterns involving the sale of usable wastes can be varied; however, the cases seem to be governed by the following simple but never explicitly stated rule: a party will be held liable if it sells a waste that cannot be used or won’t be used as delivered without first causing the release of a hazardous substance.

This unstated rule explains why parties selling spent solvents to recycling facilities have always been found to have arranged for disposal (the spent solvents can’t be used without… More

Obama Budget Would Cut Superfund by 6%: How About A New Approach?

According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, President Obama’s proposed budget would reduce Superfund spending by 6%, from $565 million to $532 million. I still don’t understand why Obama, particularly with Cass Sunstein still at OMB, hasn’t turned this problem into an opportunity. I know I’ve flogged this one before, but a significant part of the explanation for the size of the Superfund budget is related to CERCLA’s status as the last bastion of command and control regulation. Everyone who practices in this area could provide endless examples of the almost unbelievable extent of micromanaging indulged in by EPA and its… More

Rethinking Successor Liability under CERCLA

The PCB contamination in the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin continues to spawn novel Superfund decisions. The latest is US v. NCR, in which Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin reversed his initial ruling, made less than six months ago, that the United States could not establish successor liability under CERCLA against Appleton Papers, which had bought assets from the alleged polluting party – NCR Corp – and assumed NCR’s liabilities. As Judge Greisbach explained in his earlier ruling, there can be no successor liability where the seller of assets remains a viable CERCLA defendant, since… More

Watch What You Do With That Shovel (Or Heavy Equipment): Another Developer Faces Superfund Liability For Site Redevelopment

More than 20 years ago, in the Tanglewood East decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a developers could potentially be liable under CERCLA for conducting site development activities that moved contamination on the site, exacerbated conditions, and required additional cleanup. There have not been many reported cases on this issue since then, so the decision earlier this week in Saline River Properties v. Johnson Controls seemed noteworthy. 

The factual discussion was pretty sparse, but it seems undisputed that Johnson Controls had previously owned the property, the property was contaminated, and Johnson Controls was remediating it under… More

Hurray! A District Court Actually Follows Burlington Northern

Recently, I expressed concern that District Courts, which traditionally have never seen a CERCLA plaintiff they didn’t like, would ignore the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision – at least until there is another Supreme Court decision affirming that Supremes really meant the two-part holding in Burlington Northern: (1) divisibility isn’t that hard and (2) parties aren’t liable as arrangers unless they actually intended to dispose of hazardous material. 

Although it shouldn’t be earthshaking, I was therefore encouraged to see last week’s decision in Schiavone v. Northeast Utilities Service Company. In Schiavone, the defendants sold used transformers to… More

Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Massachusetts Anymore: Exceeding a Cleanup Standard Is Not Necessarily An Imminent Hazard

In an interesting decision issued earlier this month, Judge Lewis Babcock of the District of Colorado ruled, in County of La Plata v. Brown Group Retail, that detection of contamination at levels exceeding state cleanup standards does not, by itself constitute an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA. I think that Judge Babcock is correct, but I can’t help but feel that the decision might be different in the blue state of Massachusetts. I was particularly taken by Judge Babcock’s description of the nature and purpose of state regulatory standards:

Regulatory screening levels, action levels, and standards do not… More

Cutting Through the Gordian Knot of Allocation: If You Were Bad, You Lose

In late 2009, Judge Griesbach ruled, in Appleton Papers v. George A. Whiting Paper, that parties who were significantly more “blameworthy” than others were not entitled to contribution from the less blameworthy parties. Last week, Judge Griesbach ruled on the cross-contribution motions from the defendants. 

The defendants took a simple view. If the plaintiffs are not entitled to contribution from the defendants, because the plaintiffs were almost entirely at fault, then the defendants should be able to receive 100% of their own response costs in contribution from the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs, not surprisingly, took a contrary view. Plaintiffs’ position was that the… More

A Man’s Home (Or Mall Or Other Business) May Be His Castle — But He Still Has to Provide Access When Contamination Is At Issue

Two recent decision illustrate that PRPs do hold some cards in hazardous waste litigation, particularly if they are willing to be aggressive in investigating the contamination. Both cases demonstrate that “victims” or bystanders can face serious consequences if they do not cooperate with the investigation.

In Carlson v. Ameren Corporation, the plaintiffs had purchased a former manufactured gas plant from Ameren Corporation. They brought suit under RCRA, seeking an injunction requiring that Ameren remediate the property. Ameren filed counterclaims against the Carlsons, alleging that they had refused to cooperate with the cleanup. The question was whether such a lack of cooperation could constitute… More

How Much Circumstantial Evidence Is Enough To Establish Liability? More Than Just Proximity and a Bad Name

Sometimes, good lawyering does matter. When DVL found PCBs on its property in Fort Edward, New York, and when it looked up and realized that GE had operated a manufacturing facility which utilized PCBs “almost adjacent” to DVL’s property, DVL and its attorneys may have thought that they had a slam dunk case on liability. Not so fast. Last week, in DVL v. General Electric, Judge Lawrence Kahn awarded GE summary judgment on liability, because DVL had failed to provide even enough evidence of GE’s liability to survive summary judgment. 

DVL did have more than just GE’s proximity on its side. The types… More

Pre-Thanksgiving Superfund Rant

As the holiday approaches, I am particularly thankful that I am not counsel to the Washington State DOT in United States v. Washington State DOT, a case that continues to make me want to take EPA, DOJ, and United States District Judge Robert Bryan by the neck and ask them what the heck are they thinking. 

In July, I posted about Judge Bryan’s decision holding that the Washington DOT “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances by designing and operating a highway drainage system that deposited highway runoff containing hazardous substances into… More

New Arsenic MCL in the Works? Will I Be Dead Before Any of My Sites are Clean?

As Superfund practitioners know, federal NPL sites are generally settled on the basis that the PRPs will first attain interim cleanup levels, though final cleanup levels are not determined until EPA is actually ready to issue its certification of completion of the remedy. Moreover, EPA insists that, should any ARARs change during the course of the cleanup, whatever standards are in effect at the time of site closure will be applied.

We saw the impact of this on the ground in 2001, when EPA revised the Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant level, or MCL, for arsenic from 50 ppb… More

Yes, Virginia, You Can Estop the Government

One of the first lessons I learned as a summer associate, more years ago than I care to remember, is that the probability of a successful estoppel claim against the government is approximately the same as the probability that there is a Santa Claus. After the recent decision from the District of New Jersey in FMC Corporation v. American Cyanamid, the probability of a successful estoppel claim may still be low, but it isn’t zero.

FMC involves claims concerning the Higgins Farm Superfund Site, in Franklin, New Jersey. According to the decision, FMC contacted the State of New Jersey in 2001… More

The Delusion of Finality in CERCLA

My partner Robby Sanoff blogged last week about the “Illusion of Finality in CERCLA.” His post addressed City of Emeryville v. Sherwin-Williams, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a person who was not a party to a prior settlement could bring a contribution claim against such a settling party, at least where the new claim involved contamination at a downgradient property, rather than the property that was the subject of the first settlement.

City of Emeryville seems to have been rightly decided. The only real lesson it teaches is that a PRP who wants to settle… More

Illusion of Finality in CERCLA

In City of Emeryville v. The Sherwin-Williams Company, the Ninth Circuit recently underscored that CERCLA settlements can be a risky business that don’t always produce finality, particularly when neither the United States nor a state is a party. 

The Ninth Circuit decision grew out of a federal court action by the City of Emeryville involving contamination at a manufacturing facility that had been operated by Sherwin-Williams. Sherwin-Williams settled that suit and obtained what it thought was broad protection against contribution claims based on contamination “at, on, under, and emanating from” the facility.

After Sherwin-Williams had performed its obligations under… More

The Deck is Still Stacked in the Government’s Favor — Is This A Good Thing?

Last week, in City of Pittsfield v. EPA, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of a petition by the City of Pittsfield seeking review of an NPDES permit issued by EPA. The case makes no new law and, by itself, is not particularly remarkable.  Cases on NPDES permit appeals have held for some time that a permittee appealing an NPDES permit must set forth in detail in its petition basically every conceivable claim or argument that they might want to assert. Pretty much no detail is too small. The City of Pittsfield failed to do this, instead relying on their… More

Is CERCLA The Most Poorly Drafted Statute In The History Of Congress?

There are only two permissible answers to this question:

Yes I don’t know.

I was reminded of this reality in reading the decision issued earlier this month in Solutia v. McWane, in which Chief Magistrate Judge Greene of the Northern District of Alabama held that a party which incurs response costs pursuant to a consent decree or administrative order may not bring an action for cost recovery under § 107 of CERCLA and is instead limited to a contribution action under § 113 of CERCLA.

For those of our readers who are either masochists or do Superfund law for… More

A Combined Superfund and Stormwater Rant

Sometimes, the practice of environmental law just takes my breath away. A decision issued earlier last month in United States v. Washington DOT was about as stunning as it gets. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Robert Bryan held that the Washington State Department of Transportation had “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances within the meaning of CERCLA by designing state highways with stormwater collection and drainage structures, where those drainage structures ultimately deposited stormwater containing hazardous substances into Commencement Bay —… More

CERCLA – Still – Remains Constitutional

Last year, I analogized PRP efforts to have CERCLA’s unilateral administrative order provisions declared unconstitutional to Chevy Chase’s repeated announcements during the first year of Saturday Night Live that Francisco Franco was still dead. Eventually, that joke wore out. With yesterday’s decision by the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in General Electric v. Jackson, upholding EPA’s UAO authority, these legal challenges may be similarly about to wear out.

The analysis in GE v. Jackson is pretty straightforward. EPA may not obtain fines or treble damages if a PRP defies a UAO unless the agency goes to court and the court… More

Life is Unfair: CERCLA Jurisprudence Department

When the Burlington Northern decision was first announced, I concluded that “never has the Supreme Court done so much by doing so little.” On May 5, Judge John Mendez, of he Eastern District of California, proved me at least half right. In United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, joint and several liability was imposed on the defendants in 2002. The 2002 decision stated that “given the nature of pollution at the site, it would be difficult to identify distinct harms.” The court did not analyze whether there was a reasonable basis for apportionment of liability. 

Following the Burlington Northern decision, the… More

Making Sense of Superfund: The Third Circuit Gives a Lesson to the Supreme Court

One of the outstanding questions following the Supreme Court decisions in Aviall and Atlantic Research was whether a party which had entered into a consent decree with the United States and incurred direct response costs as a result could bring an action for cost recovery under § 107 of CERCLA or whether such a settling party would instead have a contribution action under § 113. The problem facing practitioners and the courts following Atlantic Research was that the Supreme Court seemed to have backed itself into a corner. By focusing its analysis of § 113 so narrowly on the traditional common law understanding… More

Superfund Contribution Actions: Bad Guys Need Not Apply

Last week, Judge William Griesbach, of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, issued an important Superfund contribution decision, which shows just how much equitable discretion judges have in resolving contribution claims. In Appleton Papers v. George Whiting Paper, Judge Griesbach ruled, on summary judgment, that one equitable factor, knowledge of the potential environmental harm caused by PCBs, trumped all others, and that the plaintiffs, who had manufactured carbonless copy paper, or CCP, had no right to contribution from paper companies which used CCP… More

Superfund Liability: Owner? Operator? Property Manager?

In an interesting decision issued a few weeks ago, a District Court in Georgia held that a property manager at a strip mall could not be held liable as an owner of a facility under CERCLA. However, the court held that the property manager could be liable as an operator of the facility. I don’t think that the decision is correct, but if it is the law, then property managers would be wise to consider carefully what responsibilities they are willing to assume and what sort of indemnification agreements may be required with the actual property owners.

The case, More

EPA Issues a New Policy on Superfund Negotiations: Time For Another Rant?

Late last week, Elliott Gilberg, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) issued an Interim Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations. Members of the regulated community may not be surprised by the contents of the memo, but they certainly will not be pleased. In brief, the memorandum fundamentally makes two points:

EPA wants to shorten the duration of RD/RA negotiation

EPA is going to use the heavy hammer of unilateral administrative orders, or UAOs, to keep PRPs’ feet to the fire and ensure that negotiations move quickly.

PRPs will likely… More

Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Under RCRA — I Know It When I See It

Justice Potter Stewart famously said, with respect to obscenity, that “I know it when I see it.” I fear that the test for what constitutes an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA is no clearer than Justice Stewart’s subjective test regarding obscenity.

This week, in a decision that is good news for RCRA defendants, Judge Illlston, of the Northern District of California, ruled, in West Coast Home Builders v. Aventis Cropscience USA,  that risks posed by potential future vapor intrusion into buildings from a groundwater plume could not be “imminent and substantial” where no development has… More

Burlington Northern: EPA Speaks

For those of you who cannot get enough of Superfund, I spoke at a Boston Bar Association panel on this subject yesterday about the implications of the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision. Thanks to EPA Region I and Joanna Jerison, head of the Region I Superfund Legal Office, for being willing to speak on so obviously sore a subject. And thanks to Craig Campbell for participating on the panel as well.

As you can see from her presentation and mine, it appears that EPA and the private bar do not yet have a common… More

An Additional Note on Burlington Northern: More Litigation in Your Future?

One more note on the Burlington Northern decision.  A client of mine has already noted that one impact of the decision will be to result in more litigation over divisibility, which will be good for private lawyers (ouch!).  She’s right, as my clients always are, but she shouldn’t be.

Litigation should only increase if EPA does not adjust its settlement demands. If EPA responds appropriately, and makes demands which reflect a fair resolution of a divisible liability, then there shouldn’t necessarily be more litigation than there is today.  However, if EPA continues to negotiate with PRPs as though liability is always… More

The Supreme Court Decision in Burlington Northern: There Are Limits to Liability Under CERCLA

Those of us who have practiced in the Superfund arena for some time know that the government, in those rare cases where it has been forced to litigate, has used the same oral argument in every case: “Good morning, your honor. My name is ______. I represent the government in this action and we win.” Today, the Supreme Court made clear that that the government now needs a new oral argument template.

In Burlington Northern v. United States, the Supreme Court issued two important decisions in one. First, the Court held that a defendant must actually intend its waste to be disposed of before… More

A Rant Against Superfund

As some of my clients know all too well, I’ve been spending a lot of time on some Superfund matters recently. Although I can’t remember a period when I didn’t have at least one moderately active Superfund case, significant immersion in complex remedial decision-making and negotiations provides an unwelcome reminder just how flawed CERCLA is. Almost 20 years after the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act ushered in wide-spread acceptance of the use of market mechanisms to achieve environmental protection goals and the state of Massachusetts successfully privatized its state Superfund program, the federal Superfund program, like some obscure former… More

Life After Atlantic Research: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals Holds that Response Costs Incurred Pursuant to a Consent Decree Are Recoverable Under Section 107 Of CERCLA

For those following developments in Superfund cost recovery and contribution case law after the Atlantic Research decision, it seemed worth noting that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held, in W.R. Grace & Co. – Conn. v. Zotos International, Inc., that a party who incurs response costs pursuant to a state consent order has a right to bring an action to recover those response costs under § 107 of CERCLA.

Thus, the 2nd Circuit has answered the question left open by note 6 in Atlantic Research, and come down on the side of actions under § 107,… More

Recovery of Attorneys’ Fees Under CERCLA: One Man’s PRP Search Is Another Man’s Litigation Expenses

In Key Tronic Corp. v. United States, the Supreme Court held that costs which are “closely tied to the actual cleanup may constitute a necessary cost of response in and of itself….” Such costs include “work performed in identifying other PRPs.”   According to the Supreme Court, “tracking down other responsible solvent polluters increases the probability that a cleanup will be effective and get paid.”

On the other hand, the Supreme Court noted that attorneys’ fees incurred in the course of negotiations with the government or for the purpose of defending a party against expected litigation are not recoverable. 

The problem… More

Private Contribution and Cost Recovery Claims Under CERCLA: The State of the Law after Atlantic Research

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the law on private cost recovery and contribution claims under CERCLA, following the decision in Atlantic Research, I recently participated in a panel discussion on the issue. A copy of my presentation can be found here.

The most contentious issue during the discussion was whether private parties who have settled with the government and performed direct cleanups – as opposed to reimbursing the government – as a result of such settlements have an action for cost recovery under § 107 of CERCLA or an action for contribution under § 113 of… More

Say It Loud, Say It Clear; The Inside of a Building Is NOT the Environment

In a recent decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that neither CERCLA nor RCRA provide convenient ways for the buyer of a building containing asbestos to finance the abatement of that asbestos. In Sycamore Industrial Park Associates v. Ericsson, the seller of the building replaced the old heating equipment shortly prior to sale, but left the old system, including piping, in place. The buyer sought to make the seller pay for the asbestos abatement on the ground that the seller has disposed of the old equipment by abandoning it in place when it installed the new system…. More