“Owner” liability under the CERCLA federal environmental liability act “does not extend to holders of mere possessory interest in lands, such as permitees, easement holders, or licensees, whose possessory interests have been conveyed to them by the owners of real property, which owners continue to retain power to control the permittee’s use of the real property”.  So holds the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in finding no “owner” environmental liability for the former permit holder of Berth 44 in the Port of Los Angeles, home of the San Pedro Boat Works which were found to have soil and groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds, petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, copper, lead, mercury, and chromium.  The Ninth Circuit’s somewhat startling conclusion makes more sense when considering that CERCLA provides strict liability for each of the “owner” and “operator” of a contaminated property, so that in many cases, Port lessees, assignees, and permittees may have “operator” responsibility for environmental contamination even while the Port remains the ultimate owner of a property or facility.  However, for obscure procedural reasons not evident from the Court’s opinion here, “operator” liability claims in this case were dropped by the Port at an earlier stage in the proceeding, leaving only the  unsuccessful “owner” liability claim against the Port’s former tenant.  (City of Los Angeles v. San Pedro Boat Works, et. al., Ninth Circuit No. 08-56163, March 14, 2011)

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