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New Jersey Files Massive New Set of NRD Lawsuits

Article

In-Sites

August 22, 2007

Just one day ahead of a deadline that had twice been extended by the Legislature, the Attorney General’s office and DEP announced on June 29 that they had filed approximately 120 lawsuits seeking natural resource damages (NRDs) at contaminated sites throughout the state. The lawsuits represent the latest wave in New Jersey’s ongoing NRD initiative, which was launched in 2003.

NRD claims seek damages that go above and beyond normal cleanup costs, to compensate for the loss or destruction of, and injury to, natural resources. DEP has also sought so-called “loss of use” damages, for the claimed loss to the public of services from the contaminated resource until it is completely cleaned up. Another controversial aspect of the program has been the State’s use of outside private counsel under a contingent fee arrangement.

The defendants in the new NRD suits include a number of household names, from Ciba Geigy and Union Carbide to PSE&G and Princeton University. One suit names more than fifty major oil and chemical companies that designed and/or manufactured the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) or sold gasoline containing MTBE beginning in the late 1970s. It alleges that MTBE has contaminated drinking water supplies across the state, and seeks cleanup, monitoring, and treatment costs, as well as “loss of use” damages.

Since its inception in the early 1990s, New Jersey’s NRD program has recovered more than $51 million. That number is likely to rise quickly as DEP’s initiative continues.