Posted on January 16, 2009 by Charles Efflandt
On December 23, 2008, EPA issued a direct final rule amending the “All Appropriate Inquiries Rule” [Standards for Conducting All Appropriate Inquiry]by adopting ASTM International’s “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessment Process for Forestland or Rural Property” (ASTM E2247-08) [EPA Amendment to AAI Rule]. ASTM E2247-08 was published after EPA promulgated the All Appropriate Inquires (AAI) rule and is specifically tailored to conducting Phase I environmental site assessments of large tracts of rural and forestland property. EPA’s action incorporates the ASTM E2247-08 forestland and rural property assessment practices as a federal standard for establishing the AAI component of the bona fide prospective purchaser, contiguous property owner and innocent landowner defenses to CERCLA owner/operator liability.
The AAI Rule as originally promulgated referenced and recognized as compliant ASTM E1527-05, which provides practices for conducting AAI of commercial real estate. ASTM E2247-08 is a variant of the original standard that focuses on the environmental assessment of greater than 120 acres of forestland or rural property or property with a developed use of only managed forestland and/or agriculture. Users of the forestland and rural property Phase I practices are intended to include the forest industry, conservation organizations, natural resource industries and rural real estate professionals and lenders.
Although the Forestland or Rural Property Standard is over 40 pages in length, EPA admits that the differences between this standard and the standards incorporated in the original AAI Rule are few and relatively insignificant.
Generally, the forestland and rural property practices offer the “Environmental Professional” more options to satisfy the site reconnaissance component of the Phase I assessment to, in part, alleviate the burden of visually inspecting these large properties. Also, the 120 acres (or more) that qualify the property for this standard need not be contiguous, provided all parcels are part of the same transaction and have substantially the same land use. Minor differences in the “past and present owner/occupant” interview requirements also exist that take into account the nature and use of these properties.
Both the original Rule and ASTM E2247-08 require the Phase I “User” to search for environmental liens and collect other information reasonably ascertainable to the User. Although the original Rule does not mandate disclosure of this information to the Environmental Professional, ASTM E2247-08 requires that such information be disclosed.
ASTM E2247-08 also includes a more extensive list of potentially applicable historical records and offers guidance on “beyond scope” assessments particularly relevant to forestland and rural property such as endangered species and non-point source assessment considerations.
Conceptually, a modified Phase I assessment practice for large tracts of forestland and rural property makes sense. However, EPA’s recent amendment to the AAI Rule provides that a purchaser of forestland or rural property within the scope of ASTM E2247-08 need not use the practices in that standard. Rather, such purchasers may continue to follow the provisions of the original Rule and ASTM E1527-05.
That being the case, and given that the new forestland and rural property standard is in many respects more stringent than the original Rule, it is debatable whether this amendment of the Rule actually provides focus, efficiency and useful flexibility to the assessment of these types of properties or simply adds another layer of confusion and complexity for property purchasers and Environmental Professionals to evaluate.