Remediation of Contaminated Sites: a Recent EU Court of Justice Judgment

March 26, 2015

On March 4, 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a preliminary ruling on a question referred to it by the Grand Chamber of the Italian Council of State (Adunanza Plenaria del Consiglio di Stato), by order dated September 25, 2013, No. 21, regarding the interpretation of EU environmental principles in relation to national legislation concerning the duties of “innocent landowners” (i.e., owners of contaminated sites who are not responsible for the pollution). Pursuant to the Italian law under scrutiny, administrative authorities are not empowered to require innocent landowners to implement preventive and remedial measures, but only to request a refund for the costs incurred in implementing such preventive and remedial measures, within the limit of the market value of the cleaned sites.

The issue of landowners’ liability has given rise to conflicting Italian administrative case law. The Court of Justice’s ruling confirmed that EU law does not preclude national legislation from exempting the innocent landowner from the obligation to implement emergency, safety and remedial measures and limits its liability to the recovery of costs which the authority incurred for remedial actions, within the limit of market value of the sites once the remediation has been carried out.