Energy & Environment

Supreme Court backs Guam’s bid to get payments from US for hazardous dumping

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The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision Monday backed Guam’s bid to pursue payment from the U.S. government for hazardous waste dumping by the Navy at the territory’s Ordot Dump.

The ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, reversed a decision by a lower court that found a prior settlement had adequately “resolved Guam’s liability” for the dump.

At issue in the case is whether a 2004 settlement between the U.S and Guam under the Clean Water Act should prevent the U.S. territory from pursuing payment under another law that deals with hazardous waste cleanup known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

Monday’s ruling said Guam can pursue U.S. payments under the hazardous waste law. 

The court said that just because the U.S. and Guam had reached an agreement under a different environmental law, namely the Clean Water Act, that does not mean Guam can’t pursue additional payments under CERCLA.

During oral arguments, an attorney representing the federal government argued that what counts as a “response action,” under CERCLA isn’t specific to actions taken under the waste law.

The Navy for years dumped waste at Guam’s Ordot Dump, where the territory also dumped municipal waste.

In the 2004 agreement, Guam paid the U.S. after it alleged that the territory had violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants into U.S. waters without a permit. 

In 2017, the territory sued the U.S., seeking money for the cost of cleanup at the now-closed site.

The Supreme Court on Monday remanded the issue back to a lower court.

“We are thrilled with the Court’s decision in favor of Guam today, which paves the way for the United States to pay its fair share for the cleanup of the Ordot Dump,” said lawyer Gregory Garre, who is representing Guam, in an email.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Updated at 1:17 p.m.

Tags CERCLA Clarence Thomas Clean Water Act Dumping guam Guam Hazardous waste Supreme Court Supreme Court ruling

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