New Jersey continues to file Natural Resource Damage (NRD) lawsuits. Since announcing plans to aggressively pursue natural resource damages in January 2018, the Murphy Administration has brought 12 NRD suits.

Natural Resource Damage Lawsuits

Natural Resource Damages are intended to compensate the public for the injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources. Natural resources are broadly defined to include “land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, groundwater, drinking water supplies and other such resources.” New Jersey is authorized to recover the “cost of restoration and replacement of any natural resource...” under the New Jersey Spill Compensation Act (Spill Act). Several other state and federal statutes also provide the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) with additional authority to require the investigation and restoration of injured natural resources. These federal statutes include the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Oil Pollution Act.

Latest NRD Suits

On December 18, 2019, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and NJDEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced the filing of NRD lawsuits against The Sherwin Williams Company and Handy & Harman Electronic Materials Corp. One is against The Sherwin Williams Company, and the other is against Handy & Harman Electronic Materials Corp.

“As Attorney General, I have been committed to holding polluters accountable for the legacy of contamination they left in our state,” Attorney General Grewal said in a press statement. “Too many companies have treated the public’s natural resources like private dumping grounds, despite the health risks to our residents and the harms to our environment. That is why we’ve spent the past two years making polluters pay for the damage they caused, efforts that continue with today’s lawsuits. I am proud of the twelve natural resource damage actions that we filed in just two years, and I know that we are only getting started.”

The complaint against Sherwin Williams arises out of the company’s operations at sites in Gibbsboro, Voorhees Township and Lindenwold in Camden County. The State alleges that Sherwin Williams manufactured oil-based paints, lacquers and varnishes, and in the process discharged industrial wastes into the ground, into nearby Hilliards Creek and into other surrounding creeks and lakes.

The complaint against Handy & Harman arises out of its operations of an etching and surfacing facility in Montvale, Bergen County in the 1980s. During Handy & Harman’s ownership, the complaint alleges, hazardous substances – including the chemical TCE (trichloroethylene) – were discharged on the property, resulting in the contamination of groundwater and the closure of nearby drinking water wells.

The uptick in NRD lawsuits — nine filed in 2019 alone — strongly suggests that the Murphy Administration will continue to aggressively pursue natural resource damages. Given that such damages can often outweigh the costs of remediation, businesses should contact a knowledgeable New Jersey environmental law attorney to discuss any concerns.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-806-3364.