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A “New Day” in New Jersey Environmental Law and Enforcement: Environmental Justice and Natural Resource Damage Cases Take Flight Under New Administration Watch

By: Michael C. Kondrla, Esq.1

In August, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) announced the filing of six lawsuits focused on contaminated properties, three of which sought the recovery of damages to the State’s natural resources. A few months later, on December 6, 2018, the Attorney General and DEP announced a second sweep of lawsuits, targeting polluters in lower income and minority communities and notably again, damages to the State’s surface and ground waters, sediments, and wetlands.

This most recent round of lawsuits focuses on contaminated properties located throughout the State. From Newark to Camden, the State’s new “environmental justice” initiative is apparent and unmistakable. So too, is the focus on natural resource damage (“NRD”) cases. Up until this summer, the State had not initiated any NRD cases since 2008. Additional information concerning the State’s recent activities can be found here: https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases18/pr20181206a.html.

One of the sites targeted in last week’s filings is the Puchack Wellfield in Pennsauken, Camden County. According to the State’s press release, the Puchack Wellfield represents a series of wells that provided drinking water to Camden residents decades ago. The matter’s Complaint alleges the defendant is responsible for unlawful discharges from plating operations and groundwater contamination that resulted in the eventual termination of the wells. Under statutory and common law theories, the State is seeking compensatory and actual damages for impacts to natural resources, as well as past and ongoing cleanup and removal costs.

In addition to these lawsuits, the Attorney General announced that his office is restructuring a new unit to bring added focus to environmental injustices. Similar to the Puchack Wellfield site, contaminated property owners and the regulated community, as a whole, can expect a marked uptick in enforcement and legal actions seeking recovery of damages to State natural resources.


1Michael C. Kondrla, Esq. is associated with the law firm Lieberman & Blecher, P.C. in Princeton, New Jersey.  His and the firm’s practices specialize in environmental litigation, cleanup cost recovery, and hazardous site remediation across the State.

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