Landowner Liability for Petroleum Spills Reviewed by the Fourth Department

In 1093 Group, LLC v. Canale, 72 A.D.3d 1561 (4th Dept., 2010), the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, addressed the question of liability of both a subsequent purchaser and prior landowner for a petroleum spill on their property.  In Canale,  the plaintiff, a subsequent purchaser of property, sued the prior owner seeking to hold her liable under Article 12 of the New York Navigation Law for approximately $50,000 in costs incurred in cleaning up petroleum contamination caused by a leaking underground storage tank on the property.  The Erie County Supreme Court granted the plaintiff’s cross-motion for summary judgment and the previous owner appealed.

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DC Court of Appeals Rejects GE’s Constitutional Challenge to CERCLA‘s Unilateral Order Provisions

In General Electric Company v. US Environmental Protection Agency, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia, (June, 2010), General Electric Company (GE) challenged the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue unilateral administrative orders (UAOs) without a pre-deprivation hearing.   The District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected GE’s argument that CERCLA, along with the manner in which EPA administers it, violates the Due Process Clause.

CERCLA was enacted to ensure prompt cleanups of hazardous waste sites and to put the ultimate cost of such cleanups upon the responsible parties.  When EPA decides that a cleanup is needed at a hazardous waste site, it has four options:  1) negotiate a cleanup order with a potentially responsible party (PRP); 2) cleanup the site itself and recover its costs from the PRP; 3) get a  court to order the PRP to cleanup the site; or,  4) issue a UAO directing a PRP to clean up the site.

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Court of Appeals Revisits SEQRA Standing Rules

In Matter of Save the Pine Bush, Inc. et al. v. Common Council of City of Albany, et al., 13 N.Y.3d 297 (2009), the Court of Appeals outlined the legal standard to establish legal standing to challenge an agency’s environmental review pursuant to State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). As explained in my October 2009 Environmental Update, the issue of standing has been a contentious one since the 1991 Court of Appeals’ decision in Society of Plastics Indus. v. County of Suffolk, 77 NY2d 761 (1991). In that case, the Court held that in order to establish standing to challenge an agency’s compliance with SEQRA a party must show that it had suffered an injury different from that of the public at large and that such injury is within SEQRA’s “zone of interest.” Numerous cases, many commenced by environmental or citizen groups, challenging the SEQRA review of a proposed project by a local governing board, have grappled with the scope and intent of the Society of Plastics standing rule.

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