WASHINGTON – The US Supreme Court agreed to use a Montana case involving a BP unit to consider shielding companies from environmental cleanup lawsuits that go beyond what federal regulators have ordered.
The justices will review a Montana Supreme Court decision that allowed a suit by property owners whose land was contaminated by arsenic discharged decades ago from a copper smelter in the western part of the state. The landowners are suing BP’s Atlantic Richfield, which acquired the smelter’s operator, Anaconda, in 1977.
Atlantic Richfield, backed by corporate trade groups, says the landowners are improperly seeking money for restoration that conflicts with cleanup operations ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA designated the area as a Superfund site in 1983. Atlantic Richfield says it’s already spent $470-million implementing the EPA’s orders, and work is slated to continue until 2025.
The landowners who sued say they want a more extensive cleanup that would set a lower level of arsenic, remove more soil and install trenches and barriers to capture and treat groundwater.
The Trump administration said the Montana court was wrong to let the suit go forward but nonetheless said the case wasn’t suitable for Supreme Court review because of procedural issues.
The court will hear arguments and rule during the nine-month term that starts in October. The case is Atlantic Richfield v. Christian, 17-1498.