Court of Appeals Rules That State Can Seek Full Cleanup of Superfund Sites

2 Jan

The State of New York has joined California in stepping up in defense of its environment and of its people.  When will Florida stop acting like a third world country and start defending our environment and our people instead of perpetuating the cover-up of environmental and human rights atrocities in our state?

Court of Appeals Rules That State Can Seek Full Cleanup of Superfund Sites

By
Published: December 15, 2011
In a decision affecting some of New York’s most toxic sites, the Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that state environmental regulators could seek to require companies responsible for the pollution to restore the areas to the condition they were in before the contamination occurred.

At the heart of the case was the question of how clean is clean enough under the state’s Superfund program, which oversees the cleanup of landfills, rivers and former industrial places where toxic chemicals were disposed of or stored.

A coalition of companies that own some of the properties sued the state in 2007, arguing that the Department of Environmental Conservation had the authority only to require the removal of “significant” environmental threats, not to mandate a cleanup that restored a site to its pre-industrial condition.

But in its 5-to-2 decision, the Court of Appeals said that the conservation department “did not exceed its authority or act contrary to law” in enforcing a regulation meant to remove existing or potential hazards that pose a significant threat or imminent danger of irreversible damage to the environment.

Under the regulation, department officials can call for restoration of contaminated sites to “pre-disposal conditions to the extent feasible.”

The court said the regulation allows for an array of cleanup options. “Ultimately these administrative directives can be constrained by technological feasibility, cost-effectiveness and procedural due process, among other things,” the majority on the court said.

The department issued a statement calling the decision “a substantial victory for the state’s citizens, land and water.” Officials said it applied to 950 sites.

Yet Thomas Walsh, the lawyer for the companies, grouped under the name New York State Superfund Coalition, claimed a partial victory, saying the court left no doubt that “cost-effectiveness” should be a factor in deciding the thoroughness of cleanups.

Mr. Walsh said that cleanups could range from $500,000 to many millions of dollars. He said the companies were fighting over the incremental costs of a cleanup once a site is deemed safe.

“The argument was about how much more,” he said. “When the incremental cost outweighs the incremental environmental benefit, it’s not cost-effective.”

But environmental groups said that the state needed the flexibility to demand the most stringent cleanup possible so it could broaden the future uses that a site could have, and that the court decision affirmed that right.

“In a perfect world, it’d be great to have these sites cleaned up for a wide range of future uses, everything from a nursery school playground to an industrial warehouse,” said Mark A. Izeman, a senior lawyer and the urban program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.

“In the real world, not every site will be cleaned up to the highest level,” he said. “But by upholding that objective, the court gives the state the flexibility to determine what’s the most appropriate cleanup.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: