Challenge to Superfund Settlement Rejected by First Circuit, Highlighting CERCLA Risks to Non-Settling PRPs
The First Circuit recently affirmed the District of Rhode Island’s approval of a superfund consent decree entered into between the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), the State of Rhode Island and several Potentially Responsible Parties despite opposition by third party PRPs that the settlement was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). Emhart Indus., Inc. v. CNA Holdings LLC, No. 19-1563, slip op. (1st Cir. 2021 Feb. 17, 2021). What makes this case unique, and bolstered the arguments of the objectors, is that the settlement incorporated work pursuant to a ROD that the District Court had already determined has not been selected in accordance with law. Nevertheless, both the District Court and the First Circuit held that the finding did not preclude the settlement, leaving the objectors exposed to contribution claims for a remedy potentially inconsistent with the National Contingency Plan (“NCP”). In affirming the lower court, the First Circuit highlighted the “integral part” that early settlement plays in CERCLA’s statutory scheme, thus giving deference to the settling parties.