On November 6, 2013, ASTM revised its standard for conducting Phase I environmental site assessments, known as Standard E1527-13 (entitled “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process”). ASTM E1527-13 is the first revision to the ASTM Phase I standard since its 2005 revision of the standard (known as ASTM E1527-05).
The ASTM standards are a helpful tool for parties seeking to avoid, or at least minimize, potential liability pursuant to the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA,” also known as “Superfund”). CERCLA imposes liability without regard to fault or negligence on present facility owners and certain past owners, as well as certain other parties, for any environmental contamination found on the property. This means that a purchaser and current owner of land contaminated by the actions of others could be held liable under CERCLA for the cleanup of the property. Fortunately, CERCLA has a few defenses for these situations for so-called “innocent landowners,” “bona fide prospective purchasers,” and “contiguous property owners.” However, to qualify for these defenses, CERCLA requires a property owner to conduct “all appropriate inquiries” on or before the date of acquiring the contaminated property, among other requirements.
Prior to November 2005, there was no federally approved statute or regulation defining the procedure that a prospective purchaser must follow in conducting all appropriate inquiries. However, on November 1, 2005, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), issued a final rule entitled the “Standards and Practices for All Appropriate Inquiries.” Effective on November 1, 2006, the All Appropriate Inquiries Rule for the first time established federal standards and practices for conducting all appropriate inquiries, as a first step to qualifying for one of the elusive CERCLA defenses.