Third Circuit Holds Current Owners May Be Liable for Past Remediation Costs Under CERCLA
Last week the Third Circuit held that the owner of a remediated site could be liable under CERCLA § 107(a) for environmental response costs incurred before it acquired the property. Pa. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. v. Trainer Custom Chem., LLC., __ F.3d __, No. 17-2607, 2018 WL 4844077 (3d Cir. 2018). In its opinion reversing the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in advance of trial, the court concluded that “all costs” in § 107(a)(4)(A) means an owner is “indeed liable for all response costs, whether incurred before or after acquiring the property.” Id. at *5. Our blog post discussing the district court’s decision, 204 F. Supp. 3d 814 (E.D. Pa. 2016), can be found here.
Under CERCLA, when a government agency responds to a release of hazardous substances, it may recover “all costs of [the] removal or remedial action” from responsible parties, including “the owner and operator” of the remediated site. 42 U.S.C. § 9607(a). In this case, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and EPA initiated response actions in 2007 at the site of a chemical manufacturing plant. Trainer Custom Chem., 2018 WL 4844077 at *1. When the company that owned the site fell into financial trouble and could no longer afford to cover the cleanup costs, the Department began paying the electric bills. Id. at *2. Through June 2009, the Department spent over $818,000 on electricity. Id. In 2012, a few months before the Department and EPA finished the removal actions, Trainer Custom Chemical, LLC purchased the property, and in the years that followed, it caused new releases of hazardous substances at the site. Id.