Ruling Creates Certainty and Uncertainty at Current and Future Superfund Sites
May 11, 2020
In a case watched closely by environmental attorneys around the country, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian (“the Christian case”) that solidified EPA’s authority to determine cleanup remedies at Superfund sites under CERCLA while allowing private landowners to pursue restoration damages for more stringent cleanups in state court. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts sorts through a thicket of private property rights, federalism (including state v. federal court jurisdiction) and CERCLA’s objective of orderly, efficient cleanups led by EPA. Supreme Court decisions construing CERCLA are infrequent, once every few years and like other decisions (CTS Corp, Burlington Northern, U.S. v. Atlantic Research, ) the Christian case, while resolving some issues, leaves a lot of questions that will be litigated at CERCLA sites and decided by lower courts for years to come.
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