Polluter Pays

Environmental Advocates Support this Bill

Explanation: 

This bill allows public water suppliers and wholesale water suppliers to sue a polluter for damages within three years of water testing that reveals elevated levels of dangerous contaminants in the water supply. This bill makes it easier to hold polluters accountable and helps prevent the costs of remediation from falling on New York taxpayers.

Emerging contaminants like PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane are increasingly being discovered in drinking water supplies across the state. In response, the Legislature instructed the Department of Health in 2017 to create a list of emerging contaminants for which all public water systems must test (this directive has not yet been implemented). In addition, DOH is working on limits on the amount of PFOA, PFOS, and 1,4-dioxane that can be legally present in drinking water.

New requirements for treatment will bring additional costs onto water systems, and they will need up-to-date legal tools to hold responsible polluters accountable for these costs. Under current law, the clock to bring a suit starts ticking once a contaminant is discovered in a water supply. However, water systems may have been aware of contaminants for many years but never pursued remedial action, because the contaminant levels did not violate state or federal water quality standards at the time. As new science drives governments to adopt more protective standards, polluters should not be let off the hook for treating contaminated water.

DOH estimates that 23 percent of New York’s public water systems may require treatment when limits for PFOA and PFOS are established, requiring $855 million in capital costs and $45 million in annual operating costs. When limits for 1,4-dioxane are established, DOH estimates it will cost $318 million to treat 89 wells, with annual operating costs of $13 million.

As New York implements stronger protections for clean water and public health, it is critical that polluters be responsible for cleaning up water supplies they contaminate.

Summary: 

This bill creates a new section in the Civil Practices Law and Rules to set the statute of limitations to within three years for public water suppliers and wholesale water suppliers to commence an action for injury to property. The bill takes effect immediately.

Memo #: 

27