April 22, 2020
The Supreme Court ruled today on an important environmental case involving common law and state statutory claims (Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian et al., case number 17-1498).The question before the court was whether Atlantic Richfield Company (“ARCO”) is liable for remediation by landowners at a Superfund site beyond that required by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). The answer is “yes—so long as the landowners first obtain EPA approval for the remedial work they seek to carry out.”
The Supreme Court did not entertain CERCLA’s preemption of the state statute invoked by the plaintiffs in this case because EPA had not yet approved the plaintiffs’ proposed restoration plan under the state statute, which the Court ruled is required. The Supreme Court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. The Montana Supreme Court has two options on remand: (1) enter a stay to allow the landowners to seek EPA approval or (2) enter judgment against the landowners on their restoration damages claim without prejudice to their ability to refile if they obtain EPA approval. Either way, EPA must approve the restoration plan before it can proceed.
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