11.22.21 Last week, EPA transmitted four important documents to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) for peer review that included updated health assessments for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). This peer review, which will start on December 16, will inform EPA’s development of a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) Goal and a future, legally enforceable National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFOA and PFOS under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As noted in the PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024, EPA intends to release a proposed drinking water regulation for PFOA and PFOS in fall 2022. These scientific documents will provide the underpinnings for that important regulation.
Continue Reading ICYMI: EPA Takes a Big Science Step Towards Setting a Drinking Water Standard for PFOA and PFOS and the Implications Are Much Broader

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari in Guam v. United States (No. 20-382), a case involving liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The case gives the Court an opportunity to better delineate the boundary between “cost recovery” claims under section 107, and “contribution” claims under section 113. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 9607, 9613(f). The Court will specifically address what kinds of settlement agreements trigger a section 113 contribution claim and its corresponding three-year statute of limitations.
Continue Reading Supreme Court grants Certiorari in Guam CERCLA Case

Last month, the Supreme Court held oral argument in a case that addressed cleanup obligations for potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at Superfund sites. In Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, a company tasked with remediating one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites is urging the Supreme Court to overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that permitted residents to sue the company for additional restoration damages, despite its ongoing cleanup efforts under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
Continue Reading Supreme Court Considers Landowner Rights in Superfund Case

On March 15, 2019, the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing titled, “Protecting Americans at Risk of PFAS Contamination & Exposure.” The hearing examined approaches to eliminate or reduce environmental and health risks to workers and the public from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). At the hearing, there was discussion of proposed PFAS Legislation.
Continue Reading House Conducts PFAS Hearing

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly referred to as the Superfund law, directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. Sites are proposed to be placed on this “National Priorities List” (or NPL as it is known to environmental law professionals) if they exceed a certain risk score, or Hazard Ranking, and added to the List if the ranking is confirmed after a formal notice-and-comment process. A detailed set of regulations called the National Contingency Plan (NCP) governs how sites placed on the NPL will be investigated, alternative remedies evaluated, and a final remedy selected and then implemented. The NPL, the NCP, and various EPA guidance memoranda have established what practitioners acknowledge is an imperfect but generally workable process in which EPA and states work with potentially liable parties to manage cleanups at NPL sites.
Continue Reading EPA’s Superfund “Emphasis List” : Some New Questions

On May 18, the DC Circuit vacated a decision by EPA to place an Indianapolis site on the National Priorities List because the agency had ignored evidence contradicting facts underlying its listing decision. Although it is rare for a court to overturn an NPL listing, the case is a reminder that an administrative rulemaking must be based on substantial evidence, even when the agency has substantial discretion to evaluate the factual record.
Continue Reading Genuine Surprise: DC Circuit Overturns NPL Listing Decision

New chemicals of concern, new scientific and technical developments, newly discovered wastes, or natural disasters can add up to new CERCLA liabilities. When the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) was passed in 1980, it did not address the finality of judgments and settlements for the cleanup of contaminated sites. Some early settlements with EPA provided a complete release from all future CERCLA liability, but that later changed when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) began to limit the scope of covenants not to sue to specified “matters covered” by the settlement. The 1986 CERCLA amendments in section 122(f)(6), 42 U.S.C. § 9622(f)(6)(1) permanently made the change to require “reopeners” in all but a few limited circumstances.
Continue Reading Reopened CERCLA Liability: New Causes for Concern?

The stakes are high for anyone facing environmental liability in the wake of superstorms like Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. If you are among the parties potentially liable for the costs to clean up a release of oil or hazardous substances caused by a major storm event, you may be thinking about a possible “act of God” defense.  You may want to think again. In practice, the availability of this defense has proved elusive.  It is still a good idea, however,  to minimize risk in planning for the next “big one.”  Ultimately, advance actions taken to avoid or mitigate the impacts of natural disasters may be the difference between being excused from or being saddled with cleanup liability.
Continue Reading Viability of the “Act of God” Defense in a Superstorm World

The Superfund program is much criticized for good reason on many grounds. It takes too long to investigate sites and decide on the appropriate cleanup. The costs for investigation and cleanup actions are excessive. The process is seemingly never-ending as contaminated sites languish on the National Priorities List for decades.

Streamlining the process is a worthwhile goal, but equally important would be reforms to promote remedy decisions that take account of the fact the resources are not unlimited. Money spent on cleanup is not available for another purpose. Unfortunately, because of its single-minded focus on often remote human health and ecological risks associated with exposures to chemical contaminants (usually based on highly conservative exposure assumptions), the Superfund program drives a lot of resources to cleanup that likely would be better allocated to another use.


Continue Reading Can Superfund Be Reformed to Reduce the Misallocation of Resources?