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Supreme Court: Guam can sue U.S. government over toxic waste site

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court's opinion rejecting the U.S. Navy's argument that because the Clean Water Act settlement involved pollution from the Ordot Dump in Guam, it fell under its three-year statute of limitations. File Pool Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the court's opinion rejecting the U.S. Navy's argument that because the Clean Water Act settlement involved pollution from the Ordot Dump in Guam, it fell under its three-year statute of limitations. File Pool Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

May 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled Guam could sue the United States government for the cleanup costs of an abandoned toxic waste dump on the island once used by the Navy.

Guam, a U.S. territory, had demanded that the Navy share in the cost of cleaning up the Ordot Dump, a Superfund site where the Navy for years dumped toxic waste.

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The D.C. Court of Appeals had ruled that a 2004 settlement between the United States and Guam under the Clean Water Act prevents the island from suing for payment under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, another law that deals with the hazardous waste cleanup.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument and sent the case back to the lower court.

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Justice Clarence Thomas, in writing the court's opinion, rejected the Navy's argument that because the Clean Water Act settlement involved pollution from the Ordot Dump, it fell under its three-year statute of limitations.

"To be sure, as the government points out, remedial measures that a party takes under another environmental statute might resemble steps taken in a formal CERCLA 'response action,' but relying on that functional overlap to reinterpret the phrase 'resolved its liability for some or all of a response action' to mean 'settled an environmental liability that might have been actionable under CERCLA' would stretch the statute beyond Congress' actual language," Thomas said.

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Gregory Garre, an attorney representing Guam, told The Hill, "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."

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