On November 21, 2012, a federal district court in Wisconsin rejected PRP efforts to seek modification of the remedial plan established by U.S. EPA and the State of Wisconsin to address PCB-contaminated sediments in the Fox River. In 2010, U.S. EPA and the State of Wisconsin sued several potentially responsible parties ("PRPs") in order to enforce a Unilateral Administrative Order ("UAO") that had been issued in 2007. As part of that enforcement proceeding, several PRPs argued that U.S. EPA and the State of Wisconsin had acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by failing to issue a formal ROD amendment for the Fox River PCB remediation in light of significant exceedences of the original cost estimates.
In 2003, U.S. EPA issued a ROD requiring the dredging of approximately 6.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments at an estimated cost of approximately $325 million. In 2007, a ROD amendment was issued that adopted a hybrid approach that provided for both capping and dredging the PCB-contaminated sediments. The estimated cost of the hybrid remedy was $432 million. In 2009, remediation costs for the hybrid remedy were projected to increase to $701 million (although the PRPs argued that remediation costs were really closer to $1.5 billion). Notwithstanding the significant cost increases, U.S. EPA didn't issue another ROD amendment but instead issued an Explanation of Significant Differences ("ESD"). The ESD acknowledged the cost increase but concluded that the increase did not pose a "fundamental" change that would necessitate a ROD amendment.
The court rejected the PRPs' argument that the cost increase by itself required the issuance of a ROD amendment. Although the court acknowledged that a 62% cost increase was significant, the court concluded that the cost increase itself did not alter the basic features of the remedy such that a ROD amendment would be required. Merely because something is more expensive does not change the basics of the underlying remedy, the court concluded.
The PRPs also raised a number of technical issues that they contend demonstrated a clear bias by the governmental agencies in favor of the more expensive dredging remedy. The court rejected these arguments, finding that "the record demonstrates a colossal effort to get it right and to consider all options fairly and honestly—without prejudice, without arbitrariness and without caprice." The court therefore denied the PRPs summary judgment motions and instead granted summary judgment in favor of the government on the issue of the propriety of the hybrid remedy.
To read a copy of the court's opinion, please click here.