Court rules Montana landowners need EPA approval for clean up measures

Court rules Montana landowners need EPA approval for clean up measures
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Montana landowners must get the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval before taking their own actions to clean up a contaminated site. 

The Superfund site in question is the Anaconda Copper Smelter in Butte, Mont. The EPA has been working for years with the site’s owner, the Atlantic Richfield Company, on a cleanup plan expected to go through 2025.

A coalition of 98 landowners sued the Atlantic Richfield Company. They hoped to implement their own plan which according to the court, “includes measures beyond those the agency found necessary to protect human health and the environment.”

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts argued in the court opinion that the landowners couldn’t take their own actions because he determined that they were “potentially responsible parties” which the law says cannot undertake their own plan without agency approval. 

He wrote that his interpretation would lead to the “careful development of a single EPA-led cleanup effort rather than tens of thousands of competing individual ones.”

The Superfund program allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and requires responsible parties to clean up the sites or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanups.