The court’s interpretation of the “Super Fund Law” was unanimously recognized

Opinion analysis

Only four weeks after hearing the oral arguments, the Supreme Court issued a refreshingly clear, unanimous opinion on Monday. Decide in Guam v. United States. Judge Clarence Thomas believes that Guam can demand compensation from the U.S. Navy for cleaning up the Ordot Dump, which is a site built and used by the Navy for decades on the island.

The case involved the interpretation of the Federal Superfund Act and the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.” CERCLA is now more than 40 years old, but the complexity and ambiguity of the law has caused many controversies, which eventually led to disputes in the courts.Just a year ago, the controversial CERCLA contribution provision (section 113) in this case was description Written by Justice Samuel Alito, “Such problems are difficult or even difficult to assemble together. Article 113 has been 35 years old. It was added to improve the fairness of the law and allow Those who believe that they have paid more than they deserve to file a lawsuit to take action against other parties who may be liable.

In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency included Guam’s Ordot Dump in CERCLA’s “National Priorities List” for cleanup. As the former owner of the site, the U.S. Navy was appointed by the EPA as the potential party responsible for the site in 1988. According to the 2002 “Clean Water Act”, the federal government did not use federal superfund funds to clean up the site, but instead asked Guam to sue the country. Stop pollutants leaching from garbage dumps from polluting nearby rivers. In 2004, Guam reached a settlement with the EPA and reached a consent order requiring the territory to stop water pollution by closing and covering up garbage dumps.

Guam sued the Navy in 2017 after learning that the cost of cleaning up the dump could be as high as 160 million U.S. dollars, demanding contributions for the cleanup costs.Guam requires according to Article 107(a) Or, as an alternative, according to Article 113(f)(3)(B), Authorizing “contribution actions to persons who have resolved part or all of its response to the United States or a state or part or all of the costs of such operations to the United States or the country.[] …The judicially approved settlement agreement [with the U.S. or a state]. “

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the cost recovery actions in Section 107(a) and the assessment actions in Section 113(f)(3)(B) are mutually exclusive. The court held that the 2004 consent order was a settlement agreement that triggered Guam’s right to make contributions under Article 113(f)(3)(B), and only the latter could bring a lawsuit. However, the court held that Guam’s payment actions were subject to a three-year statute of limitations from the date of settlement. The court acknowledged that from Guam’s point of view, the result was “serious” because the Navy “stored decades of dangerous ammunition and chemicals in the Aldott dump and held Guam accountable.”

Guam argued before the Supreme Court that the settlement of the Clean Water Act reached with the EPA will not trigger the statute of limitations in Article 113 of CERCLA because it is not a settlement of CERCLA’s specific responsibilities. The federal government argues that the “response cost” settlements mentioned in Section 113(f)(3)(B) may involve the cleanup of dumps under any environmental regulations.

Thomas accepted Guam’s argument to the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion that only CERCLA-specific settlements can trigger the Article 113 statute of limitations. He came to this conclusion based on the text and structure of CERCLA, and pointed out that the regulation repeatedly referred to “response actions” and “response costs.” Thomas admitted that “as the government pointed out, the remedial measures taken by the parties under another environmental regulation may be similar to the steps taken in CERCLA’s formal “response actions”.” But he pointed out that “rely on functionally To reinterpret the “resolved its responsibilities…for partial or full response actions”, which means “resolve environmental responsibilities that may be sued under CERCLA” and extend the regulations beyond the actual wording of Congress.”

Although Thomas believes that he did not quote it, About Friends of the Court The attorney generals from 24 states filed a lawsuit for Guam, which may be a unanimous decision made by the District of Columbia and the Northern Marianas Islands. During the oral argument, Judge Neil Gorsuch pointed out that the states participating in the briefing included red and blue states in all regions of the country. The states argued that the DC Circuit’s decision contradicted the “fundamental principles of federalism” because it restricted the ability of states to use state laws to promote cleanup of contaminated sites. At any time the attorney generals of the red and blue states can reach a consensus on legal issues, which seems to be a political miracle in today’s polarized political atmosphere.

When Chief Justice John Roberts was nominated to the court 16 years ago, he condemned the court’s tendency to issue divisive judgments, which made it difficult to determine what the law was. Although he promised to bring more consensus to the court, at the end of his first term, the court caused great confusion with his 4-1-4 ruling on the scope of the federal Clean Water Act. Lapanos v. United States.This confusion continues to this day and has caused so many lawsuits that the court even had to rule Where to file a lawsuit in response to EPA’s work to clarify the law.This Guam The judgment provides a glimmer of hope that the Chief Justice’s vision of an apolitical court that issues clear legal interpretations is not entirely impossible.

It is heartening that the court finally issued a unanimous decision to explain CERCLA. What prefers the court’s decision is that it overturned the lower court, which considered it a “harsh” result. At a time when the courts will inevitably lead to sharp political disagreements on abortion, gun rights, and other divisive social issues, Guam The verdict showed that it is impossible for judges to reach a consensus on how to interpret a major environmental law without ideological differences. I can only hope that this will not happen for the last time.

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