Processing Magazine

Supreme Court considering environmental case

January 23, 2007

The Supreme Court agreed to tackle an environmental case that could clarify when companies which have incurred industrial cleanup costs can seek to force the government or other companies to share the costs, the Associated Press reports. Atlantic Research Corp., a privately held company, is asking the Supreme Court to rule that it can recover cleanup costs from the federal government—potentially millions of dollars. If it prevails, other companies could recover millions of dollars in cleanup costs from the federal or state governments. For example, chemical giant DuPont Co. and oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips have a suit pending before the Supreme Court, asking that the federal government share the costs of cleaning up 15 sites the companies own but that the government once owned or controlled. At issue is whether companies can sue other potentially liable parties, including the government, to recover costs under the so-called "Superfund" law before they are found liable under the terms of the law. Atlantic Research retrofitted rocket motors under contract with the United States from 1981 to 1986 at an industrial park in Camden, Ark., according to court filings. The company sued the federal government in 2002, seeking to recover costs for the park''s cleanup due to its rocket propellant contamination. A district court sided with the government, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Atlantic could proceed with its suit even though it had not been found liable under Superfund law.