April 26, 2012
Earlier this month, a federal court in New Jersey denied Lockheed Martin Corporation’s (“Lockheed Martin’s”) motion to dismiss state and federal claims alleging personal injuries and reduced property values arising from soil vapor intrusion. Leese v. Lockheed Martin Corp., No. 11-5091, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50963 (D.N.J. April 11, 2012). This decision allows the case to proceed to discovery and a potential trial on the merits. This case and others like it highlight the importance of considering vapor intrusion impacts in property and corporate transactions, especially when there are known or suspected off-site contaminant plumes. In addition to private party litigation, vapor intrusion is increasingly capturing the attention of regulators in New York and elsewhere, causing them to reopen remediations that were previously thought to be complete.
In Leese v. Lockheed Martin Corp., plaintiffs Michael and Ashley Leese and their minor children allege that groundwater under their property and indoor air within their home are contaminated with trichloroethylene (“TCE”) and tetrachloroethylene (“PCE”) released from defendant Lockheed Martin’s neighboring property.
Lockheed Martin remediated TCE contamination at its property under an agreement with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), and, at DEP’s request, conducted near-slab and sub-slab soil vapor testing at surrounding residences. Lockheed Martin’s testing revealed elevated levels of PCE beneath the Plaintiffs’ property, and the Plaintiffs’ subsequent air quality testing detected PCE in the basement and first floor of their home. Plaintiffs filed suit under the New Jersey Spill Act, the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and New Jersey common law under theories of nuisance, trespass, strict liability and negligence.
In support of its motion to dismiss, Lockheed Martin argued, among other grounds, that there was no possible connection between TCE in the groundwater underneath the Plaintiff’s home and any residential exposure. The Court rejected that claim, citing the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that “TCE can be released into indoor air from … vapor intrusion … and volatilization from the water supply.”
Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, the Court found that Plaintiffs had given Lockheed Martin sufficient notice of their claims and raised a reasonable expectation that discovery would reveal evidence to support all of their claims. As the Court noted, depending on the nature of the facts unearthed throughout the discovery process Plaintiffs may still face a summary judgment motion by Lockheed Martin. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this case, this decision demonstrates the courts’ willingness to recognize vapor intrusion as a legitimate basis for environmental claims, and serves as a valuable reminder to be cognizant of potential liability arising from vapor intrusion.
Sive, Paget & Riesel represents a number of property owners on matters relating to vapor intrusion. For more information on this topic, please contact Christine Leas, Jeffrey Gracer or Michael Bogin.
December 8, 2011
On November 17, 2011, the New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”) decided to postpone its decision on Covanta Energy Corp.’s (“Covanta’s”) petition to classify waste-to-energy power as “renewable” under New York’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (“RPS”). New York’s RPS aims to produce 30% of the state’s electricity from “renewable sources” by 2015, up from approximately 21% in 2009.
To attain that goal, the RPS provides production incentives for renewable electricity generation, funded through a surcharge on ratepayers’ electricity bills and administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (“NYSERDA”). Eligible renewable electricity generators participate in a competitive solicitation process for the incentives, which are provided based on the megawatt-hours of renewable electricity delivered toNew York ratepayers or used on site. Additionally, the generator transfers all rights to the “RPS attributes” to NYSERDA, so the generator cannot benefit from the resulting pollution reductions under other emissions trading programs.
Most of the incentives to date have gone to wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and landfill gas projects, though a range of other sources – from solar, tidal and wave energy to anaerobic digesters converting agricultural biogas into electricity and heat – are also eligible. Covanta’s prior requests to include waste-to-energy facilities in the RPS, in 2004 and 2010, were both denied by the PSC.
Covanta’s petition presents a controversial question, as waste-to-energy plants provide an alternative to fossil fuels, but simultaneously present a number of environmental issues that are different from those associated with traditional renewable energy sources. Environmentalists and the New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau have opposed the petition, citing, among other things, concerns regarding mercury emissions.
Proponents of waste-to-energy facilities argue that incineration for power production is better for the environment than transporting the waste to landfills. Covanta submitted a letter to the PSC on December 6th clarifying its position and highlighting the greenhouse gas benefits of waste-to-energy facilities. Covanta reasons that environmental benefits from waste-to-energy production make waste-to-energy a more environmentally-attractive option than landfill gas recovery, a method which is currently RPS-eligible.
A middle ground approach has been adopted in other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusettsand Pennsylvania, whereby waste-to-energy facilities may receive subsidies, but not to the same degree as their zero emissions renewable generator counterparts. DEC officials have supported this compromise as an appropriate measure in the event that the PSC decides to allow waste-to-energy plants in the RPS.
For more information on the firm’s practice in the areas of energy and waste-management, contact Jeff Gracer and Paul Casowitz.
Update (December 14, 2011): In a recent letter to the PSC, Covanta withdrew its petition to classify waste-to-energy power as renewable under the New York RPS.
June 17, 2011
After five years of litigation, an appeals court ruled last week that New York City can proceed with the construction of a marine waste transfer station on the Upper East Side. Local residents had challenged the project, alleging that it appropriated public parkland for non-park purposes and that the city was required to seek legislative approval of the project.
The appeals court upheld the trial court’s findings that the parcels at issue are not public parkland, and that even if they were, the proposed project would not substantially intrude upon them. The court explained that public parks are created either expressly, via deed or legislative enactment, or by implication, through continuous use indicating an “unequivocal” intent to dedicate the parcel as public parkland.
The court found that neither of the two parcels at issue, a recreational complex known as Asphalt Green and a pedestrian path known as Bobby Wagner Walk, qualified as public parkland under this test. The court held that Asphalt Green was not expressly dedicated as parkland because it was acquired by the City for non-park purposes and that a 1989 assignment of part of the parcel to the Department of Parks was conditioned on not mapping that part as public parkland. Asphalt Green did not become public parkland by implication, the court reasoned, because it is operated by a non-City entity and because access is restricted 70% of the time to those who pay membership fees. With respect to Bobby Wagner Walk, the court commented only that it can be “distinguish[ed]…from a park” because the “Department of Transportation owns the property, and it functions primarily as a thoroughfare.”
The new marine transfer station is part of a 2006 strategic plan by Mayor Bloomberg to manage the over 11,000 tons of solid waste the city produces daily. The Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, which according to the New York Times is “affectionately known” as “the Swamp,” was the product of intense negotiations over the equitable siting of new waste facilities in the wake of the closing of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island.
Devin McDougall is a summer associate at Sive, Paget & Riesel
June 4, 2010
The New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act was signed into law by Governor Paterson on May 28, 2010. Beginning April, 2, 2011, the Act requires manufacturers to accept electronic waste for collection, handling, and recycling or reuse. Covered electronic equipment includes computers (as well as accessories such as monitors, keyboard and printers), televisions, and “small electronic equipment,” which includes portable digital music players, video recorders and video game consoles. The Act sets state-wide collection standards that slowly increase over the first three years. In addition, the Act sets manufacturer-specific acceptance standards based on their market share. The Act requires “convenient collection” from consumers, but does not include the “direct collection” requirement that was the focus of industry’s litigation concerning similar electronic waste legislation passed by the City of New York in 2008.
The Firm represented the Natural Resources Defense Council in connection with an amicus brief filed by NRDC in the litigation challenging the City law. NRDC has been a staunch supporter of producer responsibility principles. The State Act preempts the challenged City law, effectively mooting that litigation. A copy of the Act is available here.
May 28, 2010
On May 3, 2010, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) released the long awaited revised DER-10: Technical Guidance for Site Investigation & Remediation. The document becomes effective June 18. DER-10 is DEC’s authoritative guidance on how to characterize the nature and extent of contamination at a site and how to design an appropriate work plan to investigate and remediate a contaminated site.
There have been significant changes to the laws governing contaminated site cleanup since DER-10 was first published in draft form in December 2002. The New York Brownfields Cleanup Program (“BCP”) has come into being, and significant changes have been made to the State Superfund statute and its implementing regulations, 6 NYCRR Part 375. DEC has revised DER-10 to reflect these changes, conform its guidance to the newer regulatory regime, and address concerns from the regulated community that elements of the 2002 draft version of DER-10 were unmanageable or confusing.
The revised DER-10 makes significant changes to chapters addressing remedy selection, site management, periodic review and closeout. The first chapter, containing general provisions including definitions, was also significantly revised. In Section 1.3, DEC added definitions and modified others to conform them to the BCP and the modified State Superfund and Part 375 language. For example, “engineering control” and “environmental easement” were added and cite to their regulatory definitions. See 6 N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 375-1.2(q), (p). Other definitions were deleted because they were never used in practice or were poorly defined. The revised DER-10 also better defines certain elements that are not included in the regulations. For example, day care facilities, which are not classified in the regulations, are classified as a restricted residential use in the guidance.
One of the major changes to DER-10 is in Section 1.5, which relaxes certain work plan and report certification requirements. Under the 2002 draft version, DER-10 provided that only a professional engineer licensed or authorized to practice in New York could certify work plans and reports. The revised 2010 version disposes with this restrictive language, and now creates a spectrum of persons who may prepare and certify work plans and reports, which includes: New York State licensed professional engineers; qualified environmental professionals; remedial parties; and site owners at the time of certification. While most plans and reports must still be certified by either a qualified environmental professional or NY licensed engineer, remedial parties and site owners may certify periodic review reports if they relate to land or groundwater use restrictions. The revised DER-10 also includes specific certification language, consistent with the BCP and Superfund Program that must be included on the title page of all submissions and must be fully executed when a document is submitted to DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation for approval.
Chapter 4 provides the framework for remedy selection and the means and methods to identify, evaluate and select a remedy or alternative remedies to address the contamination at a site. The section provides detailed reporting and documentation requirements based on whether the site is in the Superfund program (state or federal), BCP, Environmental Restoration Program, Voluntary Cleanup Program, or petroleum spills program. It also provides DEC’s Remedial Action Objectives (“RAOs”) and preference hierarchy for removing and containing identifiable sources of contamination – removal and/or treatment at the top; treatment of source at point of exposure at the bottom. See 4.1(d).
Chapter 6 has been significantly revised; sections 6.1 (Site Management), 6.2 (Site Management Plan), and 6.3 (Periodic Review) were added. Site management, the last phase of the remedial program, commences once a Certificate of Completion (“COC”) or closure letter is issued. DER-10 describes necessary activities for proper and effective site management, including inspections by the person responsible for site management and reporting of all results in a periodic review report. The guidance requires that design, implementation, periodic review, and closeout of site management are described in a Site Management Plan (“SMP”); DEC’s website will provide a template for the SMP.
DEC also decided to rescind some TAGMs (Technical and Administrative Guidance Memoranda) developed in the 1980s and 1990s and incorporate the substance of those TAGMs into DER-10. For example, fugitive dust will no longer be monitored pursuant to a TAGM; instead, a fugitive dust and particulate monitoring program has been included as Appendix 1B in the revised DER-10. Consolidating these TAGMs into DER-10 will facilitate access to these materials for the regulated community.
DEC is planning to host a training session in Fall 2010 to answer questions and help the public understand the changes in DER-10. Notice of the meeting will be posted on DEC’s website, and DEC will solicit questions and comments prior to the meeting.
May 13, 2010
On May 4, 2010, following significant revisions (reportedly at the behest of the Office of Management and Budget), the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released proposed regulations governing management of coal combustion residuals generated by coal fired power plants, commonly known as coal ash (the “Proposed Rule”). In Fall 2009, EPA indicated it would release the Proposed Rule by the end of 2009.
EPA has proposed two options for managing coal ash.
The first option would regulate coal ash as special waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s (“RCRA”) hazardous waste provisions. Under this option, a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for management and disposal of coal ash would be created. Measures would be adopted to phase out the wet handling of coal ash. Additionally, states would be authorized to develop a permit program or use the federally-established program. This option would include storage, manifest, transport, and disposal requirements for coal ash as well as mechanisms for corrective action and financial responsibility. Failure to comply would be subject to direct federal enforcement.
The second option would regulate disposal of coal ash under RCRA’s non-hazardous waste provisions. EPA would set performance standards for waste management facilities that handle coal ash. States that adopt their own coal ash management programs would be responsible for enforcing the rule and would have the option to establish a permit program. Surface impoundments built after the rule goes into effect would be required to have composite liners, but there will be no land disposal restrictions. Although citizen suits could be filed for failure to comply with the rule, this option does not provide for direct federal enforcement. This option also does not provide for any financial assurances, but EPA plans to develop a proposed regulation pursuant to the financial assurance requirements in Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) § 108(b) that would cover coal ash facilities. This option would go into effect earlier than the first option.
Under both options, landfills that accept coal ash will be required to conduct groundwater monitoring, even if they were built before the Proposed Rule is finalized. Landfills built after the rule goes into effect would also have to install liners. The Proposed Rule does not address depositing coal ash as backfill in mines, known as minefills. Nor does it affect the current status of coal ash that is beneficially reused. The Bevill exemption, which lists specific wastes that are exempt from regulation under RCRA, includes the beneficial reuse of coal ash (e.g., fly ash in cement and concrete). However, EPA is soliciting comments regarding the uses of coal ash in unencapsulated form, such as in road fill and agricultural applications. EPA is also soliciting comments on how to define “beneficial use.” Based on the comments submitted, EPA could determine that unencapsulated uses should be regulated or could redefine which “beneficial uses” remain exempt.
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to submit comments.
For more information about the Proposed Rule and how to submit comments visit EPA’s website.
January 22, 2010
The promulgation of a proposed rule regulating coal ash has been delayed amid numerous meetings between industry representatives, environmental groups and federal agencies. On October 16, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) sent its proposed coal ash rule to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had promised that a proposed coal ash rule would be published by the end of 2009. The rule may regulate coal ash as a “hazardous waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). However, the “noteworthy” number of meetings between industry groups, environmental groups and OMB, and the over 2,300 pages of documents OMB must review, have delayed the release of a proposed rule.
Industry representatives believe that regulating coal ash under RCRA would negatively impact companies who produce the ash as well as companies who beneficially reuse it (e.g., as structural fill or agricultural uses). Tom Addams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, a utility industry group, stated “[a] hazardous determination would make builders reluctant to use coal ash not because of what it may contain, but because of tort activity. If litigation was filed on a national basis, it would be mind-boggling to see what the defense costs were.” Industry representatives also believe that the toxic materials in coal ash are not in high enough concentrations for the ash to be regulated as “hazardous.”
Environmental groups want coal ash to be regulated as a “hazardous waste” because it contains mercury, lead, and other potentially toxic constituents. Representatives of these groups are concerned that industry may influence the outcome of the proposed rule.
The coal ash proposal could be published in the coming weeks.
More information about the meetings between industry, environmental groups and OMB is available at the OMB website.
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