Category Archives: Hazardous Waste

I Thought Redeveloping Brownfields Was a Good Idea: Apparently the Boston Globe Hasn’t Gotten the Message

In an article earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported on concerns that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is planning to weaken cleanup standards for hazardous waste sites in Massachusetts, seemingly in response to pressure from developers.  The article is so wrong and the concerns are so misplaced that some response is necessary.

First, we expect MassDEP to regulate in the face of uncertainty.  That means that MassDEP must set cleanup standards without perfect knowledge.  As a result, most people – and certainly the environmentalists complaining about the regulatory changes – would expect MassDEP to err on the… More

EPA’s Groundwater Remedy Completion Strategy: Making Cleanups More Efficient Or Just Increasing PRP Costs?

Last week, EPA released a draft Groundwater Remedy Completion Strategy.  The strategy is intended to provide:

a recommended step-wise plan and decision making process for evaluating remedy operation, progress and attainment of [remedial action objectives] using an updated conceptual site model, performance metrics and data derived from site-specific remedy evaluations.

I like to think that I am skeptical, not cynical.  Having worked on this stuff for 25 years, including some specific Superfund sites for most of that time, I’m skeptical that this means anything other than increased sampling and analytical costs and increased oversight costs, as my clients and… 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

Which Is Worse? EPA Oversight or Citizen Oversight?

Everyone who represents PRPs in Superfund settlements has his or her own horror stories regarding the scope of EPA’s oversight cost claims.  We all know that oversight costs can end up as an appreciable percentage of total site costs.  We’ve all cringed to go to meetings with EPA and see not just multiple EPA employees in the room, but several disembodied voices from EPA’s Ada, Oklahoma, lab.  Insult to injury is when there are 3 or 4 representatives of EPA’s outside oversight contractor.  Further insult to injury is added for those of us from states such as Massachusetts or New… More

I Believe in Environmental Regulation, But….

As readers of this blog know, I believe in governmental environmental regulation.  We have a complicated world and it is not surprising that many activities, including those generating greenhouse gases, cause negative externalities.  At the same time, however, I have spent more than 25 years representing regulated entities in negotiations with government regulators and it is impossible to do such work without obtaining an appreciation for the very significant costs that bureaucracies impose.

With all due respect – cue the upcoming diss – to my many friends in government, the absence of market discipline or the ability to fire nonpolitical… More

Coming to a Steam Electric Generating Plant Near You in May 2014 — New Effluent Limitation Guidelines

Last Friday, EPA announced release of its draft proposal to revise the effluent guidelines and standards for the steam electric power generating industry, last revised in 1982.  The proposal was in conformance with a litigation settlement with environmental groups, which also calls for a final rule by May 22, 2014.

The proposed rule actually sets out four different regulatory options, and they are sufficiently complicated that EPA’s Fact Sheet on the proposal does not even attempt to summarize them.  For that reason, I provide here the Executive Summary of the proposed rule, which does summarize the… More

Stop the Presses: Utility Poles in Place Are Not Point Sources; Neither Are They Solid Waste

As we noted last month, the Supreme Court has determined that logging roads are not point sources subject to stormwater regulation under the Clean Water Act.  On Wednesday, in Ecological Rights Foundation v. Pacific Gas and Electric, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, relying in part on the decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, held that releases of pentachlorophenol and other pesticides from in-place utility poles also do not constitute point source discharges.  As the Court concluded:

Utility poles simply are not “discernible, confined and discrete conveyances” that “channel and control” stormwater.

The Court further… More

MassDEP Formally Proposes MCP Reforms: It’s About Time? Job Well Done? Definitely Both.

On Friday, MassDEP issued the formal public comment draft of its package of regulatory reforms under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan.  Overall, it’s certainly a good package, which will facilitate getting to an endpoint with reduced transaction costs, but no decrease in environmental protection.  It’s not perfect (and you have until May 17, 2013 to provide comments to help make it more perfect), and it took far too long, but congratulations are still due to MassDEP.

MassDEP’s summary organizes the proposed changes into five broad categories.  Highlights in each area include the following:

  • Permit, Tier Classification, and… 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

Little Ado About Very Much: EPA Reinterprets Its PCB Guidance

pcb_guidanceOn Tuesday, EPA issued its “reinterpretation” of its understanding of what building wastes constitute “PCB bulk product waste” under TSCA regulations, as opposed to “PCB remediation waste.” Previously, when PCBs migrated from building products, such as caulk, the caulk would be considered PCB bulk product waste, while the underlying contaminated building material would be considered PCB remediation waste. Now the building material will also be considered PCB bulk product waste. Indeed, EPA has slightly expanded the reinterpretation from its draft proposal; it now allows the building substrate to be characterized as PCB bulk product… More

Who Knew? The National Research Council Discovers That Many Groundwater Cleanups Will Take More Than 100 Years

Daily Environment Report today noted that the National Research Council has produced a study, Alternatives for Managing the Nation’s Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites, which assesses the scope of the groundwater contamination problem and our ability to address it. One significant takeaway from the report is that

Significant limitations with currently available remedial technologies persist that make achievement of MCLs throughout the aquifer unlikely at most complex groundwater sites in a time frame of 50-100 years. Furthermore, future improvements in these technologies are likely to be incremental, such that long-term monitoring and stewardship at sites with groundwater contamination should be expected.

This… 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

Is EPA Considering Allowing PCB Cleanups to Proceed Under RCRA, Rather Than TSCA? I’ll Believe It When I See It (And I Hope I See It)

One headline in today’s Daily Environment Report stated that “EPA Considers PCB Regulatory Reform Amid State Regulator Criticism of Program.” Even my advanced sarcasm skills failed me on reading this. I’ll therefore settle for “about bloody time.”

The original fault certainly lies with Congress, not EPA. The notion that Congress needed a separate statutory regime to deal with one specific compound (ok, family of compounds) was always foolish. TSCA and RCRA were enacted with 10 days of each other in 1976. No one has ever justified the PCB provisions of TSCA, given the contemporaneous passage of RCRA. The… 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

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

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

What’s the Future for Multi-Day Fines in Environmental Criminal Cases? The Supreme Court Rules That Juries Must Decide the Facts Supporting the Fines

The Supreme Court ruled today, in Southern Union v. United States, that juries must decide facts supporting the imposition of criminal fines.  To this non-criminal lawyer (in more ways than one, I hope), the decision did not seem particularly difficult in light of Apprendi v. New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean that the decision won’t be significant in some environmental cases.

Southern Union was a RCRA case involving allegations that Southern Union had stored a hazardous waste without a permit.  Specifically, the indictment alleged that Southern Union had done so "[f]rom on or about September 19, 2002 until… More

Wondering About the Status of EPA’s CCR Rule? So Are 11 Environmental Groups

I have had a number of clients ask me recently about the status of EPA’s efforts to regulate coal combustion residuals under RCRA. It turns out that some environmental groups have been asking themselves the same question. Being environmental groups, however, they did more than ask about it. They sued.

As most readers know, EPA published two separate proposals for regulating coal ash – one under Subtitle C and one under Subtitle D – on June 21, 2010. Since then, there has been mostly radio silence from EPA, aside from a Notice of Data Availability and request for additional comment last… 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

MassDEP Issues Vapor Intrusion Guidance: Don’t Worry; It’s Only Guidance

Last week, MassDEP finally issued its long-awaited vapor intrusion guidance. Including appendices, it is 148 pages. There is a separate 52-page response to comments on the draft guidance. MassDEP has certainly learned that guidance must at least be described as guidance. The disclaimer runs a full page, and includes the following text:

MassDEP generally does not intend the guidance to be overly prescriptive. Use of such words as “shall,” “must,” or “require,” however, indicates that the text is referring to a specific regulatory and/or statutory requirement, rather than a suggested approach and/or optional measure. Use of the words “should” or… More

Words Matter in Environmental Cleanup Standards

In New York State Superfund Coalition, Inc., v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the highest court in New York recently put its own gloss on the long-standing environmental issue of “How Clean is Clean”. There, the court held that, even though liability for cleanup under New York’s state Superfund statute is triggered when there is a “significant threat” to the environment, the state has authority to promulgate regulations requiring cleanup beyond what would be necessary to eliminate that significant threat. Specifically, the Court affirmed regulations that require cleanup to “pre-disposal conditions, to the extent feasible”.

The court… More

Greenpeace Critiques Apparel Sector Companies for Failing to Manage Water Contamination by Suppliers

green_peace_china_01Some of the world’s most well-known apparel companies have come under criticism from Greenpeace for not sufficiently monitoring and limiting industrial wastewater discharges by suppliers.  In a new report called “Dirty Laundry“, Greenpeace highlights the wastewater discharges from two major manufacturers in China that supply products to a range of major brands — including Adidas, Bauer Hockey, Calvin Klein, Converse, Lacoste, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen and Puma.  

In the report, Greenpeace alleges that the suppliers’ facilities discharge a range of hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas –… More

CERCLA Is Still – Still – Constitutional

As much as I’ve always found EPA’s use of unilateral administrative orders under Section 106 of CERCLA to be offensive, I still expected EPA’s authority to withstand challenge. As I noted previously, not every law that is unfair is unconstitutional. At least for now, the issue has probably been laid to rest. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied GE’s petition for certiorari seeking to appeal the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of its claim that EPA’s exercise of its unilateral order authority is unconstitutional.

CERCLA has been constitutional for almost as long as Francisco Franco has been dead – and they’re… More

Vapor Intrusion and the National Priorities List: Why Should the Biggest Superfund Problem Not Be Regulated Under Superfund?

As I have previously mentioned, EPA is considering including criteria related to vapor intrusion (VI) in the hazard ranking system scoring used to determine which sites should be added to the National Priorities List. As I noted when this first became news, it’s pretty much an obvious step for EPA to take. These are precisely the types of sites on which EPA should be focusing. At a certain level, I’d be happy – relatively – if EPA limited CERCLA to sites imposing threats to public water supplies and sites posing VI problems, and jettisoned everything else. 

The National Association of… 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… 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 Twofer: Indoor Air and Guidance v. Regulation

Vapor intrusion is the issue de jour at federal and state Superfund sites. On the federal side, EPA announced in January that it was considering adding vapor intrusion criteria to its calculation of hazard ranking scores. Frankly, as a concept, it’s hard to dispute. In fact, aside from when actual public water supplies are contaminated, indoor air is probably about the only risk associated with Superfund sites that we should care about. Every analysis EPA has ever done has shown that risks associated with Superfund sites are otherwise overestimated and it is not a cost-effective place to be putting environmental protection dollars. The question… 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

Would You Spend $1Billion To Remove PCBs From Light Ballasts in New York City Schools?

It may be an apocryphal story, but my understanding as to why so many small municipal landfills in New Hampshire ended up on the NPL is that some bright light in the Granite State thought that Superfund was a public works program and that the fund would pay for the landfill closures. The result? Small towns became PRPs, responsible for Superfund response costs which, in some cases, approximated their annual municipal budget.

I recall going to a public meeting concerning EPA’s preferred alternative at one site. At most sites, the public pleads for EPA to require more cleanup – because someone else… 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

You Want to Preclude a Citizens’ Suit? Pick Your Poison

When clients are threatened with citizen suits – and particularly when the threatened litigation involves a matter where EPA or a state regulatory agency is heavily involved, the clients always want to know why they can’t somehow get rid of the citizen suit, given that EPA is on the case. The answer is that they can – but only in limited circumstances.

The recent decision in Little Hocking Water Association v. DuPont confirmed this answer in the context of RCRA. The Little Hocking Water Association provides public water… More

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

There are only two permissible answers to this question:

  1. Yes
  2. 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… More

Product Stewardship or Just Cost-Shifting?

Product stewardship is definitely in vogue. The Daily Environment Report has just noted that the United State Conference of Mayors has adopted a resolution calling for “Extended Producer Responsibility For Products.” I understand the arguments in favor of product stewardship. From an economic point of view, the disposal costs associated with products and product packaging can be seen as an externality. Internalizing those costs would give manufacturers and distributors incentives to minimize those costs, through reduced packaging or changes in design/manufacturing that would reduce the costs associated with product disposal.

Nonetheless, I’m skeptical of the USCM resolution and wonder about how “producer… More

Just What We Need: More Community Engagement in Superfund Sites

Last week, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response announced release of its Community Engagement Implementation Plan. Who could be against community engagement? It’s as American as apple pie. It’s environmental justice. It’s community input into decisions that affect the community. It’s transparency and open decision-making.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m against it. Study after study shows that, in terms of the actual risks posed by Superfund sites, we devote too many of our environmental protection dollars to Superfund sites, when we should be focusing on air and water. Why do we keep doing this? Because the community demands it. As Peter Sandman has noted,… 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

To Be Hazardous or Not to Be Hazardous: EPA Floats Two Options for Regulating Coal Combustion Residuals

Environmentalists have been pushing for years to overturn the Bevill Amendment and get coal combustion residuals (CCR) regulated as a hazardous waste. The failure of an impoundment at the TVA facility in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008 almost guaranteed that EPA would do something to regulate CCR. Like Hamlet, however, EPA seems to be having trouble making up its mind. Earlier this week, EPA announced two different potential regulatory approaches, one regulating CCR as a hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C and one regulating CCR as non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D of RCRA.

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

Time For Another Rant: Precautionary Principle Edition

As I have previously noted, Cass Sunstein, now head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB under Obama, has called the precautionary principle “deeply incoherent.” Why? Because, as Sunstein notes, “costly precautions inevitably create risks.”

I hope that Sunstein is as troubled as I am by the news, reported recently by Inside EPA, that Mathy Stanislaus, head of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste & Emergency Response, has said that implementing the precautionary principle is a key to EPA’s environmental justice efforts.

When Stanislaus says that “we can’t wait until we have all the… 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… 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

Nanotechnology and Site Remediation: Is the Promise Beginning to Come to Fruition?

As a confirmed optimist and believer in technology, I’ve long thought that we can meet the challenge posed by global climate change – as long as we implement the right policies to provide incentives to develop the necessary technologies. Having the wide engineering knowledge that being a lawyer – as well as one of six political science graduates from MIT my year – provides, I have assumed that nanotechnology would play a substantial part in whatever the ultimate solution turns out to be.

Climate change is a big problem and we’re… More

When is a Preliminary Injunction Inappropriate? When the Judge Prejudges the Merits

In an interesting case, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit this week vacated most of a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Puerto Rico, because, the Court concluded, the lower court had wrongly, and without doing so explicitly, converted a PI hearing into a hearing on the merits.

In Sanchez v. Esso, a gasoline station operator brought RCRA citizen suit claims against Esso, which supplied gasoline to the station, and which actually was the owner of the USTs in which the gasoline was stored. Plaintiffs requested a PI requiring Esso both to assess and… 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

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

Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Under RCRA: Not Everything Qualifies

Attorneys who have litigated citizen suits under RCRA have often wondered if there is any possible risk that would not qualify as an “imminent and substantial endangerment,” thus subjecting the person who “contributed” to such endangerment to liability under RCRA.

In Scotchtown Holdings v. Town of Goshen, the District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this month established at least some outer parameters for this seemingly boundless phrase. In Scotchtown Holdings, the owner of land allegedly contaminated by the defendant’s use of sodium chloride – also known as salt to the uninitiated – caused groundwater contamination… More

Regulatory Fallout from the TVA Coal Ash Release

The magnitude of the recent release of coal ash from the TVA dam is hard to fathom, though the pictures certainly give some sense of its magnitude. Now, as regulators and Congress attempt to get their collective arms around the import of the release, some of the regulatory implications of the release are starting to emerge. According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, Congressional hearings this week may include a discussion regarding whether coal ash should continue to be exempt from regulation as… 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

EPA Looks to Make Life Under RCRA Easier For Educational Institutions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to publish a Final Rule creating an optional, alternative set of generator requirements for hazardous waste generated or accumulated in laboratories at “eligible academic entities”: (1) colleges and universities; (2) non-profit research institutes owned or affiliated with a college or university; or (3) teaching hospitals owned or affiliated with a college or university. 

The Rule will append a new subpart, Subpart K, to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste generator regulatory requirements of 40 CFR 262. Eligible academic entities may choose to have their laboratories subject to Subpart K in… More

Indoor Air: New Pathways to Potential Liability?

Two recent federal decisions may aid regulators and activists seeking to hold companies liable under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) for historical soil or groundwater contamination that could migrate as vapor and contaminate indoor air.

On July 28, 2008, in United States v. Apex Oil Company, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois found the owner of a petroleum pipeline strictly liable under RCRA for pipeline leaks that contaminated soil and groundwater decades prior, and granted injunctive relief requiring the owner to abate the contamination. In Apex Oil, the Department of Justice filed suit under… 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

Definition of Solid Waste Revised to Encourage Recycling of Hazardous Secondary Materials

On October 7, 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new final rule (the “Rule”) that exempts certain recycled hazardous secondary materials from RCRA’s “cradle to the grave” regulatory system.

Hazardous waste is regulated under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). A hazardous secondary material can only be classified as a hazardous waste if it is first determined to be a solid waste as defined in Section 261.2 of the RCRA regulations. Previously, Section 261.2 classified some hazardous secondary materials, but not others, as solid wastes even when recycled. As complying with RCRA can be expensive… More

The Bailout Bill Attempts to Bail Out Brownfields Properties

As pretty much everyone knows, in order to improve its prospects for passage, the Senate added certain tax provisions to the financial bailout bill – also know as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, or H.R. 1424 – enacted earlier this month. One of the provisions included in the EESA was an extension of the brownfields tax incentive.

The brownfields tax incentive, originally enacted as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, and codified as Section 198 of the internal revenue code, allows developers to immediately expense the cost of remedial work at brownfields sites,… More