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NJ Supreme Court confirms broad reach of ECRA regs.

A New Jersey supreme court ruling upheld an expanded scope of the stat's Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act (ECRA), by requiring commercial property owners to clean up adjacent land as well as their own property, in the event that contamination from their property contaminates the adjacent site.

According to Irv Cohen, president of Enviro Sciences, Inc., based in Mt. Arlington, New Jersey, the ruling significantly expands the liability of property owners and heightens the potential cost involved with cleaning up contaminated sites. Cohen, whose environmental consulting firm is expert on ECRA, indicated that the ruling is in line with increased government efforts to place the cost of cleanups on polluters, deferring the costs from taxpayers.

The 4 to 2 decision by the court was in respect to a suit brought against the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy by, the Chemical Industry Council of New Jersey, the Society for Environmental Economic Development, and two local companies. The group challenged regulations issued by the DEPE which required owners of industrial sites to clean up toxic waste on adjacent property or other off-site property polluted by waste emanating from their operation.

"Under ECRA, it has always been understood that property, and business owners must certify that there is no hazardous waste or contaminant on a particular piece of property before, it can be sold or transferred," stated Cohen. "What this court ruling does is reinforce the DEPE position that property owners are also responsible for any off-site contamination caused by their activities."

In the decision issued by the New Jersey court, Justice Stewart Pollack, speaking for the majority, stated that nothing in the words or history of ECRA suggested that the state legislative intended that owners or operators should clean up the source of pollution and ignore its effects on adjoining property. He noted, however, that the court trusts the DEPE to act "reasonably in discharging its statutory responsibilities" and to not needlessly require owners and operators to disprove off-site migration.
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Title Annotation:New Jersey; Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act regulations
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 22, 1992
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