Landowners suing Environmental Protection Agency after million dollar cleanup bill

Landowners suing Environmental Protection Agency after million dollar cleanup bill - John Kolaga - Rupp Baase - People at Law

Environmental Attorney John Kolaga is representing a couple who received a million dollar cleanup bill from the Environmental Protection Agency after an assessment from a “federally funded” program. Patrick Lakamp of the Buffalo News recently did a story on the case.

The financial plight facing Carolyn and James Newhouse started with a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency pitching a project “being funded with federal money.”

The federal agency asked the Newhouses in 2012 for access to their 61 acres of swampy woodlands along Route 219 in Cattaraugus County so crews could inspect abandoned, decades-old oil wells and plug any leaking ones.

Sure, the Newhouses replied, because years earlier the state’s environmental agency told them a previous owner was liable for the dozen or so wells on their Carrollton property. The couple bought the property for $8,400 in 2000, mainly as a place where her father could hunt, and the deal did not include rights or royalties to the abandoned wells, they said.

The next letter came three years later – with a bill attached for $768,529. 

“We each were, literally, shocked by this letter and felt like we had been punched in the gut,” Carolyn Newhouse, 57, said in a court affidavit.

The federal government billed the Newhouses for inspecting and plugging 13 wells. And the charges kept piling on for the Newhouses.

Four years later, in 2019, another letter arrived from the National Pollution Funds Center, with the bill then put at $1 million.

Five months after that, the U.S. Treasury sent a notice of debt, and it put the past due bill at $1.3 million. Wage garnishment letters soon followed.

Read the rest of the article here.