Guam to US Supreme Court: Feds intentionally tried to avoid paying for Ordot cleanup

U.S. Supreme Court (Public domain photo by Carol M. Highsmith - Library of Congress)

Lawyers representing the Government of Guam made opening remarks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court early morning Tuesday Guam time in Guam’s case against the federal government.

GovGuam aims to make the US Navy pay its share to clean up toxic waste at the Ordot Dump.

Guam Attorney General Leevin Camacho told Newstalk K57’s Patti Arroyo Tuesday morning that GovGuam has argued that the federal government intentionally tried to avoid paying its fair share to clean up toxic waste at Ordot Dump.

GovGuam has tried for years to get the Navy to pay a portion of the funds needed to clean up the site.

The cost of cleaning up the Ordot Dump is estimated to be about $160 million.

In 2017, GovGuam sued the Navy, naming it as a “potential responsible party.”

GovGuam asked the courts to hold the Navy liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act also known as CERCLA.

Although GovGuam initially won its case, it lost when the Navy appealed in February of last year.

The Court of Appeals cited the 2004 Consent Decree that Guam entered into with the U.S. EPA under the Clean Water Act.

The court decided that the Consent Decree started a 10-year countdown for a lawsuit to be filed.

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“What we have the federal government made a strategic decision to sue Guam under the Clean Water Act..because it knew we could not then get contribution from the Navy for the contamination it put up there at Ordot Dump. And we kind of fast forward right now to 2018..and what the federal government has well you guys could have sued us under CERCLA back then, but you guys didn’t. And so we’re kind of in a situation where well…you guys knew this and either it was very intentional..but you guys don’t want to contribute to this..but that’s what the Justices are..does a Clean Water Act Consent Decree…which doesn’t mention CERCLA..which doesn’t talk about hazardous waste..did that start the clock for Guam to pursue…to get some cost recovery…and have the Navy pay its fair share,” AG Camacho said.

The case is being watched closely because it has national implications.

There are about 160 high-priority cleanup sites across the U.S. where the federal government shares at least partial responsibility for contamination.

Camacho said that local governments are concerned that they could accidentally trigger CERCLA.

That would cause local governments to start the countdown to ask the federal government to pay their share to clean up toxic waste and not know it.

Camacho said that he thinks Guam has a strong case against that interpretation.

“What they have pointed that the U.S. government strategically chose to pursue a Clean Water Act action..and all we’re trying to do is hold them to that, and not use them now to say, ‘Well you guys should’ve filed a CERCLA ten years ago.’ If they chose Clean Water Act, and we have proceeded under Clean Water Act..we have not waived our right to get them to pay their fair share…under CERCLA. That’s the argument,” Camacho said.

He added that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to render an opinion on the case no later than the end of June.