News & Insights

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Review Of Montana Superfund Site Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a petition for writ of certiorari to review questions regarding clean-up activities required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).  Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, No. 17-1498.  In the suit, Atlantic Richfield seeks to overturn a decision by the Montana Supreme Court which allows private landowners to challenge the EPA’s cleanup plan at one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites. 

The issues presented are: (1) whether a common-law claim for restoration seeking cleanup remedies that conflict with remedies the EPA ordered is a jurisdictionally barred challenge to the EPA’s cleanup under CERCLA; (2) whether a landowner at a Superfund site is a “potentially responsible party” that must seek EPA approval under CERCLA before engaging in remedial action, even if the EPA never ordered the landowner to pay for a cleanup; and (3) whether CERCLA pre-empts state common-law claims for restoration that seek cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies.

To ensure that the EPA can clean a site effectively, CERCLA contains various provisions that block states or private parties from interfering with an EPA-directed site cleanup plan. The lower court’s ruling allows landowners to seek money for a cleanup plan that arguably conflicts with the EPA-directed cleanup of Montana’s Anaconda Smelter Superfund site.

The case will be considered during the Court’s next merits docket despite the United States’ recommendation that the Court deny review. The Court’s consideration of the case demonstrates the importance of addressing and resolving issues that impact the efficient cleanup of Superfund sites and the uniform application of CERCLA.