The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a lawsuit filed by several environmental groups under the citizen suit provisions of the Clean Water Act (CW A) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCR A) seeking remediation of contaminated sediment in New Jersey’s Raritan River. Raritan Baykeeper v. NL Indus., Inc. No. 10-2591 (3d Cir. 10/3/11) . The district court, citing the involvement and expertise of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), had dismissed the complaint on abstention grounds.

The case involved contamination allegedly caused by NL Industries’ operation of a titanium oxide plant on a plot of land surrounded on three sides by the river from the 1930s until 1982. After the plant closed, the site was used to manufacture sulfuric acid. In 2005, the site was purchased by Sayreville Seaport Associates, which agreed to remediate it, but the agreement did not include river sediment remediation. Subsequently, NJDEP decided that the remediation of river sediments should be carried out as part of a regional plan. When no further action was taken to clean up the river, several environmental groups filed the lawsuit.  

The appeals court ruled that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint because there was no guarantee that the claims could be handled by New Jersey state courts. The court cited the state’s Environmental Rights Act, which allows for citizen suits, but specifically allows plaintiffs to sue under other statutes that establish “a more specific standard.” The court believed that the CW A and RCR A—both federal statutes—establish such standards.