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Third Circuit Holds New Property Owner on the Hook for Old Cleanup Costs

Energy and Environmental Trends Watch

Is a purchaser of contaminated property on the hook for environmental cleanup costs that take place prior to the time the property was acquired? In Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection v. Trainer Custom Chemical, LLC, No. 1702607 (3d Cir. Oct. 5, 2018), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered this issue—and answered the question in the affirmative, holding that a current owner of real property is liable under both the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”) for all response costs in an environmental cleanup, including those costs incurred prior to the landowner’s purchase of the contaminated property. The Third Circuit’s decision is a noteworthy one—and one that undoubtedly has a significant impact on entities considering the purchase of property where hazardous substances have been released, as such purchasers run the significant risk of being on the hook for the entirety of the cost to remediate the contaminated property, including even those costs that were incurred prior to the time the buyer assumed ownership of the property.

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