MD Federal Court Holds State Ground Water Permit Excludes RCRA Liability


On July 16, 2014, the U.S. District Court of the District of Maryland issued an important Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901 et seq. (RCRA), ruling in the case of Sherrill, et al. v. The Mayor and the City Council of Baltimore, 2014 WL 3555956. The City of Baltimore has taken steps to revive and remediate a waterfront property that was the site of a former chemical manufacturing plant. It is conceded that spills and releases of hazardous substances and hazardous wastes have contaminated the site, but the City has entered into an agreement with a casino operator to construct a casino on the property. The matter has been very controversial, causing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit to file a citizen suit under Section 6972 of the RCRA alleging that contaminants are migrating off the property and polluting adjacent properties.

The site was placed by the city into Maryland’s Voluntary Cleanup Program, which required that the City develop adequate cleanup plans. The owner and operator of the proposed casino agreed to take over some of the cleanup operations, and has in fact undertaken waste extraction and removal actions. In connection with the cleanup, the casino operator also ensured that any storm water wastewater discharges were covered by the Maryland General Construction Storm Water Permit, which incorporated the cleanup plans.

The District Court held that this Clean Water Act (CWA) storm water discharge permit triggered the “anti-duplication” provisions of the RCRA and therefore shielded the casino operator from any RCRA liability, and these claims were dismissed. In addition, the claims against the City of Baltimore and the owner of the former chemical plant were also dismissed because the court held that those allegations were insufficiently pled. In effect, this decision expands the CWA permit shield to allegations of RCRA violations.

An appeal has been filed with the 4th Circuit.