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Trinity Part II: RCRA Injunctive Relief Not Available Where Remediation Is Ongoing

As footnoted in yesterday’s post, the decision in Trinity Industries, Inc. v. Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., No. 12-2059 (3rd Cir. Aug. 20, 2013), was a twofer.  Yesterday, we wrote about that part of the decision which held that a party who has resolved its liability under state statutes may seek contribution under Section 113(f) of CERCLA.  Today, we look at the second part of the decision, which concerns the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”), 42 U.S.C. §6901, et seq. 

RCRA  regulates the disposal of hazardous waste “from cradle-to-grave,” and one of its most potent provisions, Section 7002(a)(1)(B), allows a private party to bring an action for injunctive relief against any past or present generator or handler of hazardous waste where there is an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”  In Trinity Industries, Inc., the present owner of a contaminated site, then remediating the property pursuant to a consent decree, brought suit against a former owner and, along with CERCLA and state law claims for contribution and cost recovery, sought an injunction under RCRA requiring the former owner, Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. (“CB&I”), to remediate contamination at the site.

The District Court denied Trinity’s claim under RCRA, holding that an injunction was not warranted because Trinity was already required by the Consent Order to remediate the contamination at the Site, and thus any such injunction would be “futile.”  The Third Circuit affirmed.  First, the Court noted that mandatory injunctions are “extraordinary remed[ies] that [are] only granted sparingly by the courts.”  Further, RCRA permits a court to order a party to undertake remediation only as may be necessary to address the imminent threat; for contamination that is not such a threat, CERCLA provides the appropriate remedies.  Since Trinity was already addressing the contamination, and there was no evidence that it was not properly doing so, the Third Circuit held that injunctive relief under RCRA was not “necessary” to address the threat.