Cleanup Costs Recoverable, Court Rules

Associated Press
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Supreme Court strengthened a landmark anti-pollution program yesterday, enabling companies to recover costs when they voluntarily clean up hazardous material.

In a unanimous ruling, the justices said the federal Superfund law allows lawsuits to recover costs incurred in voluntary cleanups. The Bush administration had argued otherwise.

The case involved a company that contracted with the U.S. government to retrofit rocket motors. Atlantic Research Corp. voluntarily cleaned up pollution from rocket propellant that had seeped into the soil and groundwater at Camden, Ark.

The company then sued the government to recoup some of the cleanup costs.

The Justice Department contended that companies must be sued by regulators under the Superfund law or be targeted with government enforcement action before they can sue others.

"The government's interpretation makes little textual sense," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion.

The government is one of the nation's largest polluters, with environmental liability of more than $300 billion, federal data indicate.

The case is U.S. v. Atlantic Research, No. 06-562.

In other action, the court also decided unanimously against imposing a new requirement on employer pension plans, ruling that companies do not have to consider merging their pension plans as an alternative to terminating them.

The case is Beck v. Pace International Union, 05-1448.

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