Taxpayers "On The Hook" For Contamination of Passaic River if Legislation Is Not Enacted
CONTACT: Arlene Carollo, Zinn Graves & Field
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TAXPAYERS “ON THE HOOK” FOR CONTAMINATION OF PASSAIC RIVER IF LEGISLATION IS NOT ENACTED
Legislation will clarify that certain types of sewage and sewage sludge do not constitute hazardous substances
ELIZABETH, NJ, December 17, 2012 — The Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, a wastewater treatment facility, announced today its strong support for proposed legislation that will clarify the original intent of the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act. Without prompt passage of this legislation, New Jersey’s taxpayers will bear the costs of defending against a lawsuit filed by chemical companies who seek contribution for damages from more than seventy-five (75) municipalities and six (6) public sewage authorities for the alleged discharge of hazardous substances into the Passaic River and Newark Bay. Legal fees and cleanup costs are expected to cost municipalities and the sewage authorities tens of millions of dollars.
The Spill Act, passed in 1977, currently includes a sewage and sewage sludge exemption. However, the exemption has been interpreted narrowly thus altering the law’s original intent. The legislation, introduced on June 21, 2012 by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (Senate, No. 2094) and by Assemblyman John F. McKeon and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (Assembly, No. 3128), “would clarify that domestic, commercial, or industrial wastewater, sewage, or sewage sludge collected by or expelled from a sanitary sewer system or a public sewage treatment plant does not constitute a hazardous substance under the Spill Compensation and Control Act.” The proposed amendment will reflect the original intent of the Spill Act by clarifying that appropriate parties — not public entities — should be held responsible.
In 2009, the Joint Meeting was named as a third-party defendant along with five other New Jersey sewage authorities, 75 municipalities, and more than 200 other commercial entities in a lawsuit filed under the Spill Compensation and Control Act. In the original lawsuit, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) claimed that several chemical companies, including Occidental Chemical Corporation, intentionally polluted the Passaic River with dioxin and other hazardous substances during the period from 1951 to 1969. Two of these chemical company defendants now seek contribution from government and commercial entities throughout the region to minimize their liability for environmental and economic damages to the region’s waterways. Costs for cleanup of the Passaic River and Newark Bay are estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.
The amendment proposes to clarify that sewage and sewage sludge that are collected by or expelled from publicly owned treatment facilities, like the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, are not “hazardous substances” as defined by the Spill Act. Subsequently, all domestic, commercial, or industrial wastewater that pass through public sewage authorities will fall outside the ambit of the Spill Act’s “hazardous substances” definition as originally intended when the Spill Act was enacted.
According to Samuel McGhee, Executive Director of Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, the legislation needs to be enacted to protect vital government resources. “We support the cleanup of the Passaic River, but the parties directly responsible for the pollution should be held responsible. Holding sewage authorities, municipalities and other governmental entities liable would impose the financial burden of the clean up on taxpayers rather than the culpable parties. The Joint Meeting postponed important capital investments in order to pay for the defense of this lawsuit. These resources should be invested in operational and infrastructure improvements, not to defend against Spill Act litigation. ”
The Joint Meeting also announced the launch of www.NJspillactbill.org, an informational website promoting the passage of Senate, No. 2094 and Assembly, No. 3128. It provides information, including frequently asked questions, copies of the legislation, and updates to help New Jersey residents, legislators, the media and others learn about the issue. It also features a section with information on how to contact your state representatives, urging support of the legislation.
The Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties owns and operates a wastewater treatment facility, serving more than 600,000 residents in communities in Essex and Union within a 64-square mile area. Member municipalities include East Orange, Hillside, Irvington, Maplewood, Millburn, Newark, Roselle Park, South Orange, Summit, Union, and West Orange. In addition, the City of Elizabeth and portions of Livingston, Orange, Berkeley Heights, Linden and New Providence are currently served as customer municipalities.