The U.S. Federal Government and the State of New York jointly announced on May 11, 2015 a $12 million settlement with Tonawanda Coke Corporation for a litany of alleged environmental violations at TCC's western New York coke manufacturing facility.
DEC has issued its long-awaited environmental impact study for high volume horizontal fracturing, or fracking, in New York State. This document contains the state's official findings on the environmental and human health impacts of fracking, namely, that too much uncertainty surrounds the impacts of the process to proceed with issuing permits for fracking.
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.
Despite - even because of - their useful properties, perfluorinated chemicals ("PFCs") are increasingly thought to be dangerous for the environment, and potentially humans. PFCs are manmade substances with the ability to repel both water and oils, and are responsible for the stain repellant properties of your rug, the sauce-resistant properties of your takeout container, and the nonstick properties of your frying pan.
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.
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?
Can a party who is not the holder of a certain environmental permit be required to perform the obligations set out in that permit? The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation thought so, and argued as much in the case of a property owner who had purchased land where a hazardous waste storage facility had operated years earlier. The purchaser, Thompson Corners, LLC, had never held a permit to operate the facility, which had closed years before the purchase, and was never required to obtain one.
Perhaps you've heard of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," a "plastic soup" of floating waste in the Pacific purportedly twice the size of the United States, but did you know that similar plastic pollution has been documented throughout the Great Lakes? Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney have recognized the threat that this pollution poses to human health, and have recently announced legislation that could speed significant changes in the plastics industry and stop the pollution at its source-your bathroom sink. Unlike in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the culprit in the Great Lakes is not necessarily dumping, but rather the ubiquitous plastic abrasives found in hundreds of common personal care products. Known as "microbeads," these tiny plastic particles are found in everything from cosmetics to toothpaste. They get washed down the drain your bathroom sink, and float untreated through sewage treatment plants into lakes and streams. Once in the environment, they can accumulate and concentrate PCBs and other persistent toxic chemicals that are present in New York's waters as a legacy of the state's industrial past.
Here's a pop quiz: after an eleven week trial in federal court, a jury hands down a verdict of nearly $105 million against ExxonMobil for contaminating New York City's drinking water. On appeal, the verdict is upheld. What environmental law enabled the jury to find, and the appellate court to affirm, such a large verdict? The Superfund Law? The Clean Water Act? The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act?