Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Court decided a case about ending an obligation to fund wastewater treatment that serves as a useful reminder to address termination in environmental agreements of all sorts. In the throes of making a deal or settling a case, it is easy to focus intently on what one wants and to promise what needs to be promised to get it. But, as Meatloaf taught, if I promise that I will love you until the end of time, I may end up “praying for the end of time so I can end my time with you.” In Pennsylvania, one may only have to wait a reasonable time to get out of one’s promises.

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals v. Borough of West Chester, 2116 C.D. 2014 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Nov. 5, 2015), addressed a 1984 agreement to fund reconstruction of a municipal sewage treatment plant called “Goose Creek.” At the time, the Wyeth plant was one of the larger industrial users of Goose Creek. Wyeth and other industrial users agreed to fund the capital costs of the reconstruction, variable operating costs of Goose Creek associated with the industries’ use and fixed operating costs. Wyeth agreed to pay almost half of the capital and fixed operating costs. Fixed operating costs are costs of the facility that do not depend on how much wastewater it treated. None of those costs were associated with any special equipment installed to handle Wyeth’s wastewater.

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