Even the best factual cases are no match for the principle of federal preemption, as residents of Camillus, New York learned the hard way.
Have you been in the market to buy property, but learned that the property was contaminated? There are steps that you can take to avoid opening yourself up to liability.
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.
The U.S. EPA easily rejected Governor Andrew Cuomo's loan request, refraining from calling it chutzpah of the highest order: the Governor tried to pass off bridge construction as an environmental project worthy of the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF).
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.
Fixed contaminant standards need not be reached, much less exceeded, in order to cause an injury that courts can recognize. An intermediate appeals court in New York has ruled that the Suffolk County Water Authority may sue chemical companies for groundwater contamination even where the contamination does not exceed an EPA drinking water standard known as a Maximum Contaminant Level. However, this may be a pyrrhic victory, as that same court also ruled that many of the SCWA's claims were too late under New York's three-year statute of limitations for injuries from latent effects of exposure to harmful substances.
In environmental law, things aren't always what they seem at first blush. Hence, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 134 S. Ct. 1050 (2014) in June, both industry and EPA claimed victory. Given that the Court struck down EPA's interpretation of its authority under two specific provisions of the Clean Air Act, how could EPA claim a win?