Even the best factual cases are no match for the principle of federal preemption, as residents of Camillus, New York learned the hard way.
A recent federal case in New York was a reminder that in contract litigation, the parties should be careful what they claim about how "unambiguous" a contract provision assigning environmental liabilities, as elsewhere, and that in contract drafting, even apparently simple phrases have certain meanings and not others. The indirect lesson is that business people should not assume that environmental and real estate lawyers' insistence on the use of very specific terms in contracts is more academic than practical and serves no useful purpose. Indeed, the care with which such terms were defined and used provided the winning margin for Cytec Industries (Cytec).
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.
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.
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.