Category Archives: Hazardous Waste

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Little Ado About Very Much: EPA Reinterprets Its PCB Guidance

On 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. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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

Some 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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]