all appropriate inquiries

By Andrew H. Perellis, Jeryl L. Olson, and Ilana R. Morady

On October 6, 2014, EPA finalized an amendment to the “All Appropriate Inquiries” (AAI) rule to remove the reference to ASTM E-1527-05. 79 Fed. Reg. 60087. This means that ASTM E-1527-05 is no longer adequate to establish landowner and lender liability protections under CERLA. Buyers, sellers, and lenders take note: you will now need to ensure that your AAI is conducted under the newer 2013 ASTM standard.

“All Appropriate Inquiries,” or AAI, is the process of evaluating a property’s environmental conditions and assessing the likelihood of any contamination. Buyers, Sellers and Lenders involved in the transfer of real estate, including real estate transferred as part of a corporate merger, acquisition or asset sale, know that ASTM E-1527 is the typical starting point for conducing AAI and thus obtaining landowner and lender liability protections under the environmental statute CERCLA. In 2013, the 2005 ASTM standard was revised (see our article, SOMETHING NEW IS IN THE AIR:  Important Changes to ASTM E 1527 “Phase I” Environmental Due Diligence, to read more about the 2013 revisions). EPA’s policy at the time was that both ASTM E1527-05 and E1527-13 were consistent with the AAI rule at 40 CFR Part 312.  Now, however, EPA has amended the AAI rule  to remove the reference to ASTM E-1527-05, thus rendering the 2005 standard inadequate for establishing CERCLA landowner and lender liability protections.

The amendment comes after EPA received many adverse comments in response to its decision to allow both ASTM E1527-05 and E1527-13. Commenters stated that using two standards could create confusion, especially since even ASTM no longer recognizes 2005 as meeting its standards for good customary business practice. EPA ultimately agreed, and is now requiring the 2013 standard to establish AAI. Thus, if you are commissioning a Phase 1 audit report to establish AAI, you will need to make sure  the environmental consultant performing the Phase 1 relies upon ASTM E1527-13.

By Jeryl L. Olson

In follow-up to our August 16, 2013, blog regarding the EPA’s Direct Final Rule installing the new ASTM E1527-13 as an alternative, updated process for conducting Phase I environmental due diligence, it should be noted the Agency has indicated (in an email to BNA reporter Pat Ware) that it will WITHDRAW that rule.  78 Fed. Reg. 64403 (Oct. 29, 2013).

The ASTM E1527 standard is identified in 40 CFR Part 312 as the standard to be followed to ensure a user of the standard can assert Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) affirmative defenses (innocent purchaser and bona-fide prospective purchaser defenses) to CERCLA liability for contaminated real property,  The ASTM E1527 standard is universally used in real estate transactions to assess environmental conditions on properties subject to transactions.

The withdrawal is based on comments received by EPA which criticize not just the terms and conditions of the 2013 version of the ASTM standard, but EPA’s interpretation of how and when the new standard can be used. BNA reports that comments were received which criticized the Agency’s position that users may rely on either the 2005 or the 2013 versions of the standard when performing Phase I assessments. The BNA reported criticisms suggest that because the 2013 standard will be more expensive, institutional users of the standard (e.g. lenders) who tend to be high-volume purchasers of consulting services for Phase I assessments will continue the use of the 2005 standard, which is less expensive, thus rendering the 2013 standard at best moot, but most likely, confusing and potentially controversial to the myriad users of Phase I reports.

It is expected that consultants who have been gearing up for the new 2013 standard which was anticipated to become effective late this fall, will fall back for now and will be proposing services based solely on the 2005 standard.

NOTE: This blog has been updated with a more recent blog.

By Jeryl L. Olson

The U.S. EPA has published its approval of the updated ASTM Standard that is the basis for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) affirmative defenses.  Amendment to Standards and Practices for All Appropriate Inquiries, 78 Fed. Reg.  49690 (August 15, 2013). 

EPA published its approval of the “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process,” ASTM E1527-13, updating ASTM E1527-05.  The codification of the ASTM standards as the 40 CFR Part 312 (Innocent Landowners, Standards for Conducting All Appropriate Inquiries) EPA- approved method of performing environmental due diligence for purposes of establishing the innocent purchaser defenses and bona fide prospective purchaser defenses  has broad ramifications; even where the purpose of conducting environmental due diligence  is not to establish the basis for a future CERCLA defense,  the standard is so universally applied that it has become defacto the standard of environmental due diligence. 

There are no substantive differences between the 2005 and 2013 version of the ASTM Phase I due diligence standard, and therefore EPA has published the updated standard as a direct final rule.