There is an interesting article on the Reuters website about how the United States Supreme Court recently signaled that they support a mining company that is being sued by residents of an area of Montana the company once polluted. There was agreement between both liberal and conservative justices that not backing the mining company could lead to further lawsuits regarding polluted sites across the country cleaned up to standard of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The back story
From the 1800’s to 1980, an enormous copper smelting facility in the countryside near Opportunity, Montana, emitted smoke containing arsenic into the air from its giant smokestack. During its peak production years, the mine produced a large portion of the world’s copper supply.
The cleanup began in 1980, after the facility was shut down, and it was done through the EPA’s Superfund. The EPA says that the cleanup was successful, but locals say that, because there is still arsenic in the soil of their community, even more needs to be done. In the 2000’s, they sued the owner of the mine, Atlantic Richfield Company, which is now owned by British Petroleum (BP).
The case went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court, which backed the plaintiffs. If the federal Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, and this seems doubtful now, it would mean that other cleanup sites that the EPA has approved as being safe would be in question, and locals could sue. Currently, a number of states, including California, support the plaintiffs.
Arguments on both sides
The locals around the old ARCO plant say that they are getting cancer at higher than normal rates, but they admit that they don’t have statistics to back this up. They also say that their property values have been negatively affected because of the bad reputation the region has gotten because of the pollution. They say that the EPA hasn’t truly cleaned up the site until the arsenic in the soil is totally gone.
The EPA and ARCO have responded that the remaining arsenic does not pose a health risk. They also say that the locals had input in the Superfund cleanup process, and the time for them to express concerns was years ago. Furthermore, their lawyers have argued to the Supreme Court that giving in to the plaintiffs will mean thousands of lawsuits in every state of the country.