ILMA Compoundings - April 2020 - 40

COUNSEL COMPOUND

Superfund Case Could
Have Huge Implications
and Costs
By Jeff Leiter

T

he U.S. Supreme Court is
expected to hand down a decision soon in Atlantic Richfield
Co. v. Gregory Christian, an environmental law case that was argued before
the high court last December. However, the ruling could have significant
ramifications by altering the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act
(CERCLA), the 1980s scheme for the
remediation of abandoned hazardous
waste sites across the country.
Many ILMA members have experienced CERCLA's broad authority
given to the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) to direct private parties
and governmental agencies, under
a strict, joint and several liability
standard, to clean up hazardous waste
sites from disposal activities that took
place decades ago. In Christian, the
issue before the Supreme Court is
whether, and to what extent, private
landowners can contradict or alter
the EPA's cleanup plans through state
property-rights claims.
The outcome of the case could
complicate remediation efforts at
Superfund sites around the country by
affecting the EPA's remedy selection
process, potentially resulting in
millions of dollars in increased remediation costs at each site. In addition,
it is foreseeable that companies' liability for dealing with Superfund sites
would be expanded, as well as altering
CERCLA's release and contribution

40

APRIL 2020

| COMPOUNDINGS | ILMA.ORG

protections from an increase in statelaw remediation claims.
The Christian case involves the
CERCLA cleanup of the Anaconda
Smelter Superfund site, a copper ore
smelter that operated for nearly a
century in southwestern Montana
until it closed in 1980. The smelter
emitted arsenic and lead over a
300-square-mile area, including five
towns and thousands of residents.
Atlantic Richfield has spent over $470
million in cleaning up the Superfund
site under the EPA's comprehensive
CERCLA remediation plan.
Atlantic Richfield finished its
EPA-ordered remediation of certain
properties in 2016, although overall site cleanup is expected to be
completed by 2025; however, some

landowners sued in Montana state
court, seeking compensation to restore
their properties within the Anaconda
site. The landowners asked the state
court to order Atlantic Richfield to
pay for additional remediation beyond
the cleanup required by the EPA,
including deeper and more expansive
soil excavation and lower residual soil
contamination levels.
Atlantic Richfield argued to the
Montana Supreme Court that CERCLA
preempts the landowners' lawsuit,
because the statute prohibits any claim
that might qualify as a "challenge to a
CERCLA cleanup." Atlantic Richfield
also said the landowners' claims, if
granted, would make it impossible to
comply with the EPA's cleanup plan.
Continued on page 44


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ILMA Compoundings - April 2020

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