Jenner & Block

Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog

June 10, 2013 USGS Releases Water And Sediment Priority Constituents Monitoring Report

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson

 

The USGS has released a new report, Prioritization of Constituents for National and Regional Scale Ambient Monitoring of Water and Sediment in the United States, that addresses the methodology used to prioritize constituents to be assessed. This effort was undertaken in preparation for the third decade of the National Water – Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) including the time period 2013-2023.

Constituents were prioritized by the NAWQA National Target Analyte Strategy Work Group on the basis of available information on physical and chemical properties, observed or predicted environmental occurrence and fate, and observed or anticipated adverse effects on human health or aquatic life.

The constituents were ranked in three tiers:

  • Tier 1 with those having the highest priority on the basis of their likelihood of environmental occurrence in ambient water or sediment, or likelihood of effects on human health or aquatic life;
  • Tier 2 for constituents of intermediate priority on the basis of their lower likelihood of environmental occurrence or lower likelihood of effects on human health or aquatic life; and
  • Tier 3 of those with low or no priority for monitoring. 

Overall, 2,541 constituents were assessed with 1,081 constituents identified for ranking in Tier 1. Constituent groups included volatile organic compounds in water; pesticides in water or sediment; pharmaceuticals and hormones in water or sediment; trace elements and other inorganic constituents in water or sediment; cyanotoxins in surface water; lipophilic organic compounds in sediment; disinfection byproducts in water; high-production-volume chemicals in water; wastewater-indicator and industrial compounds in water; and radionuclides in water.

USGS began the NAWQA program in 1991 to develop long-term and consistent information on U.S. streams, rivers, and groundwater, how the conditions are changing over time, and how natural features and human activities affect these features, according to the USGS website.

The USGS report is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5218/sir12-5218.pdf.

CATEGORIES: Cercla, FIFRA, Hazmat, RCRA, Toxic Tort, Water

May 24, 2013 Pesticide Use Data Now Available From USGS

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson

 

The USGS recently made available detailed maps identifying annual usage of 459 pesticides throughout the U.S. The Pesticide National Synthesis Project manages pesticide data from 1992-2009 and provides specific statistics associated with pesticide use per crop and within each county.

The maps were developed for use in national and regional water-quality assessments. The USGS data was collected from surveys of farm operations and USDA statistics on annual harvest-crop acreage. This information was used to calculate use rates for each crop per year.

These maps show interesting information about the nature of pesticide use around the country. Data includes insight into the quantity of pesticide use per U.S. county as well as the specific crop growing in the same area.

The usage maps for all 459 pesticides can be accessed at http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pnsp/usage/maps/compound_listing.php.

CATEGORIES: Cercla, FIFRA, Hazmat, RCRA, Toxic Tort, Water

May 21, 2013 High Court Refuses to Take Up Kivalina Climate Suit

Holleb_Hotaling_Keri_COLORBy Keri L. Holleb Hotaling

 

On May 20, 2013, the United States Supreme Court denied the Alaska town of Kivalina’s petition for writ of certiorari in its public nuisance lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. and other energy companies. Kivalina contended that the energy companies were injuring the small Eskimo village by causing global warming and a commensurate sea level rise, and, as a result, inhabitants were forced to leave and relocate further inland. Because the Supreme Court has opted not to hear the case, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the energy companies will stand. The Ninth Circuit largely followed the reasoning of the Supreme Court in American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, ---U.S.---, 131 S. Ct. 2527, 180 L. Ed. 2d 435 (2011), in affirming the dismissal of the action by the district court and finding that the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) displaced Kivalina’s claim for $400 million in damages to fund a relocation project. (SeeNinth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Federal Common Law Nuisance Claim for Global Warming.”) Kivalina urged the Supreme Court in its February petition that the case be controlled by Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471 (2008), which held that the Clean Water Act, a statute like the CAA, did not displace a federal common law damages claim. The case is Native Village of Kivalina, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., et al., Case Number 12-1072, U.S. Supreme Court.

CATEGORIES: Air, Cercla, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, RCRA, Sustainability, Toxic Tort, TSCA, Water

PEOPLE: Keri L. Holleb Hotaling

May 9, 2013 Compliance With FIFRA Regulations Provides Defense From Product Liability Lawsuit

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

An Indiana appellate court recently affirmed summary judgment on behalf of The Dow Chemical Company and Dow AgroSciences, LLC (collectively "Dow"), in a personal injury lawsuit premised on alleged design defect and failure to warn claims. See Gresser et al. v. The Dow Chemical Company, Inc., et al. (Ind. Ct. App. April 30, 2013). Plaintiffs purchased a home that had been treated with the pesticide, Dursban TC. Shortly after moving into the home, plaintiffs allegedly experienced adverse health impacts that they attributed to the pesticide. Plaintiffs therefore filed product liability claims against Dow and negligence claims against the pesticide applicator.

Dow filed for summary judgment, arguing (1) that the Dursban was not a defective product and (2) that plaintiffs' claims were preempted under federal law. The trial court granted summary judgment, finding that Dursban was not a defective product and that plaintiffs' claims were preempted. On appeal, the Indiana appellate court noted that Indiana's Product Liability Act ("IPLA") provides a rebuttable presumption that a product is not defective where, before the sale, the manufacturer complies with all applicable codes, standards, regulations or specifications established by an agency of the United States or Indiana. Because Dow had registered the pesticide in compliance with the applicable FIFRA regulations, the court found that Dow was entitled to a statutory presumption that its product was not defective. Plaintiffs presented no admissible evidence to rebut this presumption, and therefore, the court found that Dow was entitled to summary judgment under the IPLA.

With respect to Dow's alternative preemption argument, however, the court found that the trial court's grant of summary judgment on this ground was improper. The court cited to Dow Chemical Co. v. Ebling, 753 N.E.2d 633 (Ind. 2001), noting that "the use of state tort law to further the dissemination of label information to persons at risk clearly facilitates rather than frustrates the objectives of FIFRA and does not burden an applicator's compliance with FIFRA."

To see a copy of this opinion, please click here.

CATEGORIES: FIFRA, Hazmat, Toxic Tort, TSCA

April 29, 2013 Jenner & Block Program: “Professional Responsibility And Ethics For Environmental Lawyers” – May 8th

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson

 

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, May 8, at 12:00 noon on the 45th Floor of the Chicago office for a program entitled "Professional Responsibility and Ethics for Environmental Lawyers." This professional responsibility and ethics program will focus not only on a general update of these issues but discuss legal scenarios and situations unique to environmental law practices.

Our two speakers will be: 1) Miranda K. Mandel, Loss Prevention Counsel, Attorneys' Liability Assurance Society, Inc. (ALAS); and, 2) Michael L. Shakman, Partner, Miller Shakman & Beem LLP.

Enjoy lunch, network with fellow environmental lawyers and learn what experts suggest we do to manage difficult situations that arise in our law practices.

Please forward any RSVPs to Jan Wall (jwall@jenner.com).

CATEGORIES: Air, Cercla, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, OSHA, RCRA, Sustainability, Toxic Tort, TSCA, Water

April 12, 2013 BPA Added To California's Proposition 65 List

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

On April 11, 2013, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment ("OEHHA") added bisphenol A ("BPA") to the list of chemicals known in the State of California to cause reproductive harm. OEHHA's listing of BPA is based on a 2008 report from the National Toxicology Program ("NTP") that BPA causes reproductive toxicity at high doses. Both the NTP report and OEHHA's proposal to list BPA were the subject of significant controversy, with industry groups challenging the science relied upon by NTP and environmental advocacy groups arguing that the proposed listing was long overdue. In an effort to respond to some of industry's concerns, OEHHA's proposed Maximum Allowable Dose Level ("MADL") for BPA was set at a level that has been characterized as being fairly high (290 micrograms per day) although that is likely to be challenged by environmental advocacy groups.

In any event, there is certainly likely to be a flurry of Proposition 65 notice letters sent out by the usual group of Proposition 65 plaintiffs and companies that distribute BPA-containing products in California would be well-served to ensure that their products contain the requisite Proposition 65 warnings.

Please click here for further information on OEHHA's decision to add BPA to the Proposition 65 list.

CATEGORIES: Toxic Tort

April 8, 2013 ELI and Jenner & Block Program: “Obama’s Second Term: Implications For Environmental Practice” – April 24th

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson

 

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, April 24, at 12:00 noon on the 45th Floor of the Chicago Office, for an important luncheon program we are co-sponsoring with the Environmental Law Institute ("ELI") entitled "Obama's Second Term: Implications for Environmental Practice." This program will bring together three speakers, each of whom played a key role in environmental matters during President Obama's first term, and each of whom is very knowledgeable concerning EPA enforcement trends, emerging environmental issues, and environmental policy challenges.

The three speakers will be (1) John Cruden, currently the President of ELI, who previously served for many years as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of environmental enforcement at the Department of Justice; (2) Thomas Perrelli, Chair of the Government Controversies and Public Policy Litigation Practice at Jenner & Block, who recently returned to Jenner & Block and who previously was directly involved in environmental matters as one of the key former heads of the Justice Department; and (3) Robert Kaplan, who presently serves as Regional Counsel for Region 5 of the EPA. These speakers will share lessons learned, including what we can expect will affect business and environmental regulation during President Obama's second term.

We are privileged to partner in this program with ELI, one of the preeminent, non-partisan environmental law organizations in the country. Headquartered in Washington, DC, ELI has played a pivotal role since the early 1970s in helping to shape environmental law, policy, and management, both domestically and abroad. This program will present an insider's viewpoint on what we anticipate in environmental enforcement and regulation from the DOJ, EPA, and White House over the next four years.

Please forward any RSVPs to Elizabeth Wong (elizabethwong@jenner.com).

 

CATEGORIES: Air, Cercla, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, OSHA, RCRA, Sustainability, Toxic Tort, TSCA, Water

March 27, 2013 Pacific Ocean—Next CERCLA NPL Site?

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

The Center of Biological Diversity ("CBD") has filed a petition with U.S. EPA seeking to add the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and waters of the Pacific Ocean within the United States' jurisdiction to CERCLA's National Priorities List ("NPL"). In its petition, CBD argues that the large mass of plastic debris known as the "Pacific Garbage Patch" is particularly harmful due to its impacts on marine wildlife and the coral reef ecosystems of the Hawaiian Islands. The CBD further argues that because these plastics contain toxic chemicals that are passed up through the food chain, the plastic debris is also harmful to humans that consume fish from the region.

In its press release, the CBD indicated that "this is the first time that plastic-infested waters of the United States have been nominated for Superfund designation." U.S. EPA has one year to act on the petition. In the event that U.S. EPA were to grant the CBD petition, it is unclear who might be responsible for remediating the contamination. To view the CBD petition, please click here.

CATEGORIES: Cercla, Toxic Tort, Water

March 12, 2013 DOJ Not Required To Produce Interagency Memorandum in CERCLA Case

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

A recent Seventh Circuit decision rejected a PRP's efforts to obtain interagency memorandum and other communications between the Environmental Enforcement and the Environmental Defense Sections within the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"). See Menasha Corp. et al. v. United States, (7th Cir. 2013). In 2010, the United States, on behalf of U.S. EPA and the Department of the Interior, filed a lawsuit  seeking to compel a number of alleged PRPs to remediate the Fox River Superfund Site (which remediation has been estimated to be as high as $1.5 billion).

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, DOJ sought judicial approval of a proposed consent decree with several defendants in which the United States offered to contribute $4.5 million to the cleanup in recognition that other federal agencies (including U.S. EPA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers) had contributed to the PCB contamination in the Fox River.  Menasha Corporation ("Menasha"), one of the defendants in the underlying litigation, challenged the consent decree in part on the grounds that the federal agencies' contribution to the contamination at the site was far greater than the $4.5 million that they were proposing to contribute to the site cleanup.  Menasha was concerned that the consent decree would act as a bar to its contribution claims against the United States.  

Menasha therefore sought to obtain communications between the enforcement and defense sections of DOJ, likely hoping that these communications might evidence some collusion between the defense and enforcement sections of DOJ.  Menasha argued that since the two sections of DOJ represent separate governmental entities with divergent interests, they were in fact adversaries. Since communications between adverse parties results in a waiver of privilege, Menasha argued that it was entitled to those communications. The District Court agreed and ordered the requested materials be produced. The Seventh Circuit was not similarly convinced.

Although some might analogize this situation to the adversary relationship between the State's attorney and the public defender, the Seventh Circuit analogized the situation to one where a consumer sues a private company in a personal injury lawsuit. One division of the company might seek to have the case settled to avoid bad publicity while the other division would seek to litigate the case to avoid setting a bad precedent. The general counsel would then make a final decision but the Seventh Circuit opined that one wouldn't reasonably argue that communications between the two divisions should be produced because of the adversarial relationship between the two divisions.

The Seventh Circuit expressed concern that were it to order disclosure of internal communications between competing interests within the Justice Department, the result would be that the Justice Department could never shield attorney work product in a case like this without "a crippling reorganization of the Department."  Instead, the Seventh Circuit concluded that since the only federal party in the underlying litigation was the United States, a single party represented by a single representative, DOJ, communications between the separate sections of DOJ were not communications between adverse parties.  As such, the Seventh Circuit concluded that these communications were protected by the attorney work product privilege and need not be disclosed.

Some might argue, however, that where DOJ represents a site PRP (a defendant) and U.S. EPA (or in this case, the Department of the Interior) (in its enforcement capacity), even if there is only a single federal entity named in the litigation, DOJ should not be able to hide behind the attorney work product privilege to shield communications between the two DOJ sections. The Seventh Circuit seemed to have left this door open a little, referring in dicta to the possibility of a waiver in a situation where you have independent federal agencies "squaring off against each other as opposing parties in litigation." However, the court acknowledged that this was not the fact pattern before it and it therefore rejected Menasha's efforts to obtain disclosure of these communications.

CATEGORIES: Cercla, RCRA, Toxic Tort

March 7, 2013 Minnesota Bans Triclosan For State Government

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson

 

Minnesota is believed to be one of the first state governments to stop buying products containing triclosan, an antibacterial commonly used in soap and cosmetics. Through its combined buying power, the state purchases about $1 million worth of cleaning products a year.

While there is uncertainty about whether triclosan is hazardous to humans, there also is no evidence that hand soaps and/or hand sanitizers containing triclosan are better than regular soap and water at preventing infections. Laboratory studies have found that triclosan may disrupt hormones, interfere with muscle function and promote the growth of stronger bacteria. In addition, there is growing concern suggesting a buildup in the environment may present risks to wildlife.

Triclosan also is known as 2,4,4'-trichloro-2'-hydroxydiphenyl ether, 5-chloro-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy) phenol, trichloro-2'-hydroxydiphenyl ether, CH-3565, Lexol 300, Irgasan.

In the environment, triclosan becomes a dioxin, a family of environmental contaminants linked to a variety of health risks, from cancer to hormone disruption, and which persist in the environment for years. They once came largely from industrial sources such as paper pulp mills and garbage incinerators, but increasingly stringent regulations have greatly reduced their emissions.

The recent study of triclosan in eight Minnesota lakes, conducted by scientists at the University of Minnesota and the Science Museum of Minnesota, found that triclosan and the dioxins it forms have increased in sediment while other kinds have decreased. In short, even though the water-treatment process removes most of the triclosan, antibacterial products are now the primary source of dioxins in the lakes and rivers.

There is growing concern about Triclosan and its impact on humans and the environment. This recent action by the State of Minnesota is the latest development for a substance that is undergoing continuing scrutiny in the United States and in other countries as well.

CATEGORIES: Hazmat, Toxic Tort, Water

February 25, 2013 Illinois Working On Development Of Fracking Regulations

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

Although leases have been signed on thousands of acres of land in southern Illinois, oil and gas companies have yet to aggressively initiate hydraulic fracturing in Illinois in large part because of the absence of laws regulating that practice. That may soon change, however, in light of efforts underway in Springfield to craft comprehensive fracking rules.

The Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Act (H.B. 25), which was introduced in the the Illinois House of Representatives on February 21, 2013, would grant the Illinois Department of Natural Resources the authority to promulgate rules and issue permits with respect to hydraulic fracturing activities.  The proposed bill would further require the disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, impose well construction standards to minimize source water contamination, establish setbacks with regard to residential and nearby water sources, and provide public input opportunities when fracking permits are issued.  

The bill represents the collaborative efforts of industry, environmental groups and the Illinois Attorney General. We will continue to track this bill as it makes its way through the Illinois legislature.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, RCRA, Sustainability, Toxic Tort, TSCA, Water

February 13, 2013 U.S. EPA Releases Chemical Data Reporting Information

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

On February 11, 2013, U.S. EPA released 2012 Chemical Data Reporting ("CDR") information on more than 7,600 chemicals in commerce.  Under the CDR rule, which was promulgated under TSCA, companies are required to report manufacturing and import data if the site-specific production or import volume of the chemical exceeds 25,000 pounds.  According to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, "[t]he 2012 Chemical Data Reporting information will help EPA and others to better assess chemicals, evaluate potential exposures and use, and expand efforts to encourage the use of safer chemicals."  Administrator Jackson further noted that "[t]he CDR data also highlight the clear need for TSCA reform."   The 2012 CDR information is available at http://www.epa.gov/oppt/cdr/index.html.

CATEGORIES: Air, Hazmat, Sustainability, Toxic Tort, TSCA

February 8, 2013 EPA Releases New ECHO State Enforcement Data

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy E. Lynn Grayson

 

U.S. EPA just released state dashboards and comparative maps that provide the public with information about the performance of state and EPA enforcement and compliance programs across the country.

Most states and tribes in the United States have the authority to implement and enforce many of the nation's air, water and waste laws. The dashboards and maps include state level data from the last five years and provide information including the number of completed inspections, types of violations found, enforcement actions taken, and penalties assessed by state. To ensure data quality, EPA made the maps and dashboards available to the states in advance of this public release, in order to provide an opportunity to make any necessary data corrections.

Users can customize the dashboards to view state activity, EPA activity, or combined activity. Where available, the site also allows users to view national averages and display state enforcement trends over time.

The interactive state performance dashboards are located on EPA's Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website. ECHO is an EPA transparency tool that allows the user to map federal and state inspection, violation, and enforcement information for more than 800,000 regulated facilities. The state dashboards and comparative maps that are available in ECHO are part of EPA's commitment to increasing transparency and providing data to the public in a format that is easy to understand and use.

EPA will host a webinar demonstrating how to use the state dashboards and comparative maps now available in ECHO on Tuesday, February 12, at 3 p.m. EST. The demonstration will highlight the new features added to the tool, important information about the data, and how to compare data by state.

It seems enforcement data is more readily available than ever before including new information on state enforcement discussed herein. This kind of data needs to be viewed with some caution to ensure that information is accurate and updated on a timely basis. Companies need to view the existing and new ECHO data about their facilities and communicate with EPA if there is incorrect information identified about their operations. 

To register for the ECHO webinar, go to https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/407068441.

To view the state performance dashboards and comparative maps, visit http://www.epa-echo.gov/echo/stateperformance/comparative_maps.html.

EPA's ECHO website can be viewed at http://www.epa-echo.gov.

 

 

 

CATEGORIES: Cercla, Hazmat, RCRA, Toxic Tort, TSCA, Water

February 6, 2013 Will Ninth Try Be The Charm?—DTSC Issues Ninth Draft Of Green Chemistry Regulations

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

California's Department of Toxic Substances Control ("DTSC") issued its ninth draft of the Green Chemistry Initiative in an effort to respond to industry criticisms of early versions of the regulations. (See prior blog on Green Chemistry Initiative.) The comment period on this latest draft began on January 29, 2013 and will run through February 28, 2013.   

In its latest version of the regulation, DTSC made a number of positive changes (from an industry perspective), including:

  • Limiting DTSC's authority to regulate only product ingredients that are on the chemicals of concern list (as opposed to earlier versions of the regulations that would have allowed DTSC to force companies to address product ingredients not on the chemicals of concern list);
  • Provides an upfront mechanism for companies to seek exemptions for products regulated under other public health and safety laws; 
  • Trade secret protections have been revised for the benefit of manufacturers; and
  • Providing that the development of the "Priority Products" list will be done through a separate rulemaking process.

Notwithstanding that these revisions were a result (at least in part) of industry comments, the draft regulations significantly expand the list of chemicals that are on chemicals of concern list (adding European Union Category 1 respiratory sensitizers and Clean Water Act 303(d) list chemicals) as well as expanding the scope of the public review and comment provisions. It is expected that these draft regulations will be the subject of extensive comments by both industry and environmental groups. However, the consensus also appears to be that this will be the last set of draft regulations that will be issued by DTSC. At the close of the public comment period on February 28, 2013, it is expected that these regulations will become effective shortly thereafter. Please click here to go to DTSC's Green Chemistry website to see a copy of DTSC's lastest set of draft regulations.

 

CATEGORIES: Toxic Tort

December 24, 2012 U.S. Appellate Court Defines Settling Parties' Rights to CERCLA Contribution and Cost Recovery

Sigel_Gabrielle_COLORBy Gabrielle Sigel

 

On December 19, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a panel decision that clarifies the law within that Circuit on issues left unresolved after several U.S. Supreme Court's decisions interpreting certain provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9601, et seq. ("CERCLA"). In Bernstein v. Bankert, No. 11-1501 (U.S. Ct. App. 7th Cir., Dec. 19, 2012), the appellate court addressed the rights of parties, who settle with U.S. EPA, to pursue non-settling parties for payment of their costs. The court's decision revived CERCLA causes of action that a lower court had ruled were barred under CERCLA's statutes of limitations.

The Bernstein plaintiffs are trustees of a fund that had been established to pay costs of complying with two Administrative Orders on Consent ("AOCs") that potentially responsible parties ("PRPs") had signed with U.S. EPA ‒ one in 1999 and one in 2002 ‒ to address contamination of a property in Indiana known as Third Site. At Third Site, prior to 1982, the now defunct Environmental Chemical and Conservation Company ("Enviro-Chem") had conducted waste handling and disposal activities. The 1999 AOC, which had been executed by both de minimis and other PRPs, required an environmental investigation and engineering analysis at the Site and payment of government costs. In October 2002, U.S. EPA approved the settling parties' activities under that first AOC. In November 2002, U.S. EPA issued a second AOC, this one requiring PRPs to pay for the removal action that EPA selected for the Site. Although several PRPs paid into the trust established to fund the requirements of both AOCs, the alleged former individual owners of the Site ("the Bankerts"), their corporate entity Enviro-Chem, and their insurers did not pay.

In 2008, while the removal action was still ongoing, the trustees filed a complaint against the Bankerts in the Southern District of Indiana seeking CERCLA § 9607 cost recovery, a declaration of CERCLA liability, cost recovery under Indiana's Environmental Legal Actions statute ("ELA"), and recovery under other state law claims. In response to the Bankerts' summary judgment motion, the trial court first found that the trustees could not bring a § 9607 cost recovery claim, only a § 9613(f) contribution claim, and granted the Bankerts' motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds with respect to the federal and state law claims, mooting claims for declaratory judgment and against the insurers. The trustee plaintffs appealed.

The appellate court first addressed the lower court's decision that the trustees could only bring a § 9613(f) contribution claim, and not a § 9607 cost recovery claim, each of which claim has a different statute of limitations. The court provided an overview of CERCLA rights of action, including when they can be triggered. The court found that "under the plain terms of the statute": (1) a person who has been sued under §§ 9606 or 9607 can bring a § 9613(f)(1) contribution action; (2) a person who has resolved liability to the federal or state government for all or some of its costs of a response action can bring a § 9613(f)(3)(B) contribution action; and (3) a person who does not fit into the qualifications for a contribution action, but still has incurred recoverable costs, can bring a § 9607 cost recovery action. (Slip op. 18-19.) The court then analyzed the trustees' rights under each of the AOCs individually, an approach which neither side had taken in their arguments before the court.

Specifically, the court first focused on the 1999 AOC, which it determined that U.S. EPA had approved as completed in October 2000. Thus, the court determined, in October 2000, the settling PRPs had resolved their liability to the government because the government's release of and covenants not to sue the settling PRPs only applied once the work was approved and completed. Because the settling PRPs had resolved their liability to the government, they could bring a contribution action under § 9613(f)(3)(B). The court rejected plaintiffs' claim to a § 9607 cost recovery action, even though they had sustained "necessary costs of response," holding that a plaintiff "is limited to a contribution remedy when one is available." (Slip op. 27.) However, the court then found that plaintiffs' contribution action, filed in 2008, was barred under CERCLA's statutes of limitations. The court did not, however, definitively determine which such statute applied. The Bankerts argued that the statute began running when the AOC was executed in 1999, based on CERCLA § 9613(g)(3), which provides a 3-year period to file contribution action after the signing of a de minimis settlement agreement.  Trustees accepted that argument with respect to de miminis parties' claims, but not with respect to the claims of other settling PRPs. The trustees argued that, because there is a "gap" in the statutory language with respect to non-de miminis parties' claims, the § 9613(g) statute of limitations applicable to § 9607 cost recovery actions should apply. The court found that under either approach, the statute had run prior to the 2008 court filing – either in 2002, 3 years after the AOC was signed, or in 2003, 3 years after the completion of the removal action required in the first AOC.

The court next found that because the work under the 2002 AOC was still continuing, plaintiffs had not yet triggered their release and covenant not to sue from the government. Because their liability to the government was not yet resolved, they could not bring a § 9613 contribution action. Because a contribution action was not available, and because they allegedly had incurred response costs, plaintiffs were able to bring a § 9607 cost recovery action. Because the removal action was not yet completed, the 3-year statute of limitations following the completion of a removal action had not yet begun to run. The court rejected the Bankerts' argument that those "compelled" to incur response costs could not recover under § 9607, finding that neither Supreme Court precedent nor other legal authority required that result. Therefore, plaintiffs could pursue a § 9607 cost recovery action and a declaratory judgment action for costs incurred under the 2002 AOC. The court noted, however, that plaintiffs may not be able to impose joint and several liability because, based on the Supreme Court's decision in Burlington N. and Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. U.S., 556 U.S. 599 (2009), the Bankerts may be able to show a "reasonable basis for apportionment" of their liability. (Slip op. 37.)

The appellate court also found that Indiana's 10-year catch-all statute of limitations applied to the ELA claim and that the statute applies separately to each of the separate AOCs, because each had a separate obligation to pay and, hence, a separate "injury" for statute of limitations purposes, even though both AOCs, as well as prior orders issued by U.S. EPA, pertain to the same Site. In reaching this conclusion, the court rejected the Bankerts' request to certify questions about the state statute of limitations to the Indiana Supreme Court for decision.

Finally, the court found that the Bankerts' insurer was not entitled to summary judgment with respect to its coverge obligations for the Third Site. The insurer previously had won a defense to coverage with respect to a different Enviro-Chem site, and had sought to bar coverage here on claim preclusion or issue preclusion grounds. The court found that the facts concerning the Third Site were distinct so that the trial court needed to separately consider the insurer's coverage obligations at that site.

The Bernstein decision resulted in several important CERCLA and related holdings that, unless modified upon rehearing or en banc or by the Supreme Court, will govern environmental litigation within the Seventh Circuit. Those holdings include:

  • A PRP who qualifies for a CERCLA § 9613(f) contribution action must use that cause of action to recover costs from other PRPs, and cannot use a CERCLA § 9607 cost recovery action.
  • Each government settlement agreement at a single site invokes a distinct payment obligation, each of which can be the basis for a CERCLA cause of action and, therefore, a new running of the applicable statute of limitations.
  • A PRP's right to bring a CERCLA § 9613(f)(3)(B) contribution action in response to its settlement with the government is not triggered unless and until the government issues a final release of the PRP's liability, typically upon acceptance of all work under the settlement agreement. Until that time, a PRP seeking to recover costs of response can only proceed under § 9607.
  • A PRP who executed a settlement with the government and who was "compelled" to pay response costs is entitled to proceed under § 9607; however, that plaintiff PRP will not be able to impose joint and several liability if the defendant PRPR can prove a reasonable basis for apportioning liability.

CATEGORIES: Cercla, Toxic Tort

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel