US Supreme Court to hear landmark Guam environmental cleanup case against Navy

Guam’s case seeks to hold the US Navy accountable for their share of dumping toxic waste at the Ordot Dump. (PNC file photo)

Guam’s environmental cleanup case against the U.S. Navy, which is now seen by many as a landmark case, will be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court on April 26, Washington DC time.

Guam’s case seeks to hold the US Navy accountable for their share of dumping toxic waste at the Ordot Dump.

“We are looking forward to presenting our oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States,” AG Leevin Camacho said.

According to the AG, the fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear Guam’s case shows that the issues are significant not just locally but nationally as well.

Indeed, national pundits and media outlets have been commenting on the Guam case and pointing out its relevance to the other states and territories in the nation.

Sylvia Carignan and Ellen M. Gilmer of Bloomberg Law reported that the Guam case highlights the protracted battles spawned by cleanup projects, and the proceedings are being closely watched by states and companies including Halliburton Affiliates LLC and Atlantic Richfield Co., which say the outcome could affect their own Superfund cases.

According to Bloomberg Law, there are about 160 high priority cleanup sites across the U.S. where the federal government shares at least partial responsibility for contamination, mostly due to historic military activity.

Proof of the precedent-setting nature of the Guam case is the fact that in March of this year, a bipartisan coalition of 26 attorneys general led by Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ (CNMI) Attorney General Edward Manibusan filed an amicus brief in support of Guam’s efforts to hold the U.S. Navy accountable for its share of the costs in cleaning up the Ordot Dump.

An amicus curiae, or friend of the court, is a person or interested party who has strong interests or views on a subject matter of public interest.

The amicus effort was joined by attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawai’i, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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The coalition cited “the compelling interests in supporting the Government of Guam,” which includes their interests in encouraging the timely cleanup of contaminated sites within their borders, ensuring that the United States pays its fair share, and upholding their preferred state-law approaches to cleanup of and contribution to environmental contamination.

If the Supreme Court were to side with the lower court, the coalition said in its brief that the decision would “chill responsible parties’ willingness to cooperate and settle with state regulators, thereby thwarting states’ interest in promoting quick and cost-effective cleanup.”

Guam is asking the Supreme Court of the United States to reverse a lower court’s decision that would prohibit Guam from pursuing a claim against the Navy to contribute to the cost of cleaning Ordot Dump under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

Guam and the Navy entered into a settlement agreement in 2004 under the Clean Water Act, a law separate and apart from CERCLA. Guam subsequently pursued a CERCLA claim against the Navy but the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that even a non-CERCLA settlement agreement starts the clock on the timeline to file a claim under CERCLA, and that Guam’s CERCLA claim was too late.

Guam is appealing this decision arguing that a non-CERCLA settlement agreement should not affect the CERCLA claims timeline. If Guam’s CERCLA claim is allowed to proceed, Guam will have a chance at seeking payment from the Navy for its role in contaminating Guam’s land and waters.

“The widespread bipartisan support we’ve received shows that the Ordot Dump case raises issues of local and national importance,” AG Camacho said. “We are extremely thankful to all the attorneys general for their support, and especially General Manibusan and his team for leading this effort. This is one example of how Guam’s voice can be amplified by building strong relationships with attorneys generals and their teams around the country.”