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New York State Superfund Coalition, Inc. v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20003
Nos. 189, (N.Y., 12/15/2011)

New York's highest court upheld regulations promulgated by the state's environmental agency that require inactive hazardous waste disposal sites to be restored to pre-disposal conditions. A coalition of commercial property owners argued that the regulations are ultra vires and impermissibly allow the agency to order expansive remedial programs that contravene the limited legislative goal of Article 27, Title 13 of the Environmental Conservation Law to identify and remove only "significant threats." But the agency did not exceed its authority or act contrary to law in enacting the regulations. The agency is authorized to identify inactive hazardous waste disposal sites under the "significant threat" standard—i.e., the existence of actual waste on the site. If an actual significant threat is not present, then the site is not subject to remediation. But if a significant threat has been found and remediation deemed necessary, an appropriately tailored program can be implemented to encompass dangers ranging from potential harms to actual, significant threats. These administrative directives can be constrained by technological feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and procedural due process, among other things. Consequently, the challenged regulations, which mirror this statutory scheme, are reasonable interpretations that incorporate the essential goals of the statutes and do not exceed the enabling authority of the legislation with respect to the cleanup of inactive hazardous waste sites.