The U.S. Supreme Court has recently declined to consider a case centering on the question of when a citizens' group may challenge an ongoing environmental remediation under the federal Superfund law. The Court's decision lets stand a May 2014 ruling by the Seventh Circuit that chipped away at Superfund's general prohibition on legal challenges to ongoing removal or remedial actions.
As most folks in the commercial real estate industry know, the Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser exemption from liability under the federal Superfund law is a very useful tool. Accordingly, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is standard practice for nearly every purchase of commercial real estate because it helps to satisfy EPA's "All Appropriate Inquiries" requirement for obtaining BFPP status and avoiding the often harsh liability associated with Superfund.
After settling with EPA and having its settlement upheld in court, a potentially responsible party (PRP) is free from liability to all other PRPs given notice of that proposed settlement under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund). This principle, long recognized as key to CERCLA's successful performance, was recently affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in its ASARCO, LLC v. Union Pacific Railroad Company decision.
How many remediation angels can dance on a single remediation pinhead? In the recent NL Industries v. ACF Industries ruling, a federal judge in the Western District of New York decided that, for the purposes of CERCLA cost recovery and declaratory judgment claims, all actions taken to clean up a Superfund site constitute one set of remedial actions, regardless of the number of "operable units" the site is divided into during the remediation.
Sometimes the Supreme Court's silence can be just as powerful as a decision. Or as James Joyce said about "absence" - it's the "highest form of presence."
Love Canal, New York; Cuyahoga River, Ohio; Times Beach, Missouri; Hopewell, Virginia; Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. These are the sites of some of the worst environmental contamination in our nation's history. Each of these disasters drew significant public attention, and incited the political will to confront similar environmental hazards more systematically.
In a recent Second Circuit decision, W.R. Grace & Co. v. Zotos International, No.: 05-cv-2798 (March 4, 2009), the Court followed two recent Supreme Court decisions on the oft-contested issue of when and under what sections of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act ("CERCLA") (the "Superfund" statute) a potentially responsible party ("PRP") can recoverits response costs.
4. Cleanup and removal of petroleum and actions to minimize damage from discharges shall be, to the greatest extent possible, in accordance with the National Contingency Plan for removal of oil and hazardous substances established pursuant to section 311 (d) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.), as amended by the Federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (33 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.), or revised under section 105 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (42 U.S.C. 9605). 5. The department in consultation with the attorney general shall develop a standard contract form to be used when contracting services for the cleanup and removal of a discharge.