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Supreme Court Tosses Lower Court Ruling, Sides With BP Unit To Curtail Superfund Site Cleanup Lawsuits

In a 7-2 ruling, the justices tossed a state court decision that allowed the claims for restoration damages by private landowners to proceed to trial.

Image: Smokestack of the former Anaconda copper smelting mine in western Montana. Source: Montana Public Radio

By Andrew Chung

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling that had allowed litigation by Montana landowners to proceed against BP Plc unit Atlantic Richfield Co seeking a more extensive cleanup of a hazardous waste site than the federal government had ordered.

The justices, in a 7-2 ruling, tossed a state court decision that allowed the claims for restoration damages by the private landowners within the sprawling site of its former Anaconda copper smelter in western Montana to proceed to trial. The case involves the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program responsible for cleaning up certain toxic waste sites.

In the ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, the court decided that under the law governing Superfund sites the property owners needed the approval of the EPA before undertaking restoration of their own contaminated land. Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented from the ruling.

The decision represented a victory for companies like Atlantic Richfield and business groups that said the lower court’s decision could lead to the filing of thousands more lawsuits against companies nationwide, further complicating federally mandated improvements to contaminated land.

Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham.


Source: Reuters

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