TPM Wins Summary Judgment Ruling That Environmental Groups Have Constitutional Standing to Sue NL Industries for Contaminating River Sediments

On March 27, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey issued a decision in Raritan Baykeeper v. NL Industries granting summary judgment to environmental groups Raritan Baykeeper and Edison Wetlands Association on the issue of constitutional standing.  The district court held that these groups have standing to sue NL Industries under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6972(a)(1)(B), for contaminating the sediments of the Raritan River with heavy metals such as arsenic, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc.  The district court’s decision came after a five-day evidentiary hearing in May 2017 in which plaintiff members testified about their environmental and recreational interests in the river and their concerns that contamination would diminish these interests.  Click here to read the decision.

For almost a half-century, NL operated a titanium dioxide production plant in Sayreville, New Jersey, on a peninsula bordering the Raritan River.  NL’s discharges from the site, during the plant’s operation and after its closure, caused high levels of metals to accumulate in the sediments of the river adjacent to the site.  These metals may cause an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.  Raritan Baykeeper and Edison Wetlands Association filed this case in August 2009, in order to compel NL to clean up the sediment contamination that it caused.

The land portion of the former NL site is currently undergoing remediation for a redevelopment project called Riverton.  Although the redeveloper intends to build a marina offshore in the Raritan River, as of now, there is no plan to clean up the sediments.  With the district court’s ruling that plaintiffs have standing under RCRA, Raritan Baykeeper and Edison Wetlands Association can now seek a trial on the merits to compel a cleanup of the river sediments.

TPM has a long history of fighting to ensure that citizen-plaintiffs have access to the federal courts and has established many landmark decisions on the issue of standing, including the Supreme Court case Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw and the court of appeals cases Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Gaston Copper Recycling Corp., ICO v. Honeywell, Inc., and Public Interest Research Group of New Jersey v. Powell Duffryn Terminals Inc.  TPM is pleased that the district court followed these cases in reaching its decision.

To read a press release issued by Raritan Baykeeper on April 2, 2018, click here. 

To read local news coverage of the decision published on April 5, 2018, click here.

Michael Huang