The Montana Supreme Court heard arguments Friday in a case involving residents of Opportunity, Mont. who are seeking a civil trial against the Atlantic Richfield Co. over contaminated land.
"ARCO and EPA argue that CERCLA should allow ARCO to permanently house tons and tons or arsenic and other heavy metals on plaintiff's lands under government authority," said Montana trial lawyer Domenic Cossi.
During the special public hearing held on the University of Montana Campus in Missoula, ARCO attorneys claimed that their client has already cleaned the land up to EPA standards and that this lawsuit would interfere with future Superfund cleanup in the region.
"There can't be any real dispute here that Congress intended EPA to be the one to determine the remedy at Superfund sites. Congress also intended to protect EPA's chosen remedies from interference while they were being implemented either from lawsuits or on-the-ground repeal action," said ARCO lawyer Jon Rauchway.
Some of the justices asked the ARCO representatives about how a civil suit would interfere with any further EPA cleanup.
"I don't understand on the factual record here how it is that ARCO can assert that this purposed remediation plan under the state law remedy alters, delays or stops an EPA-mandated cleanup that, from what I can tell, is substantially complete," said Justice Dirk Sandefur.
Attorneys for the Opportunity residents claimed the contamination on their property was a violation of the state constitution.
"In other words, they're forcing these people to house contaminated waste on their property forever and always," said Opportunity lawyer Justin Stalpes.
While a decision from this hearing could be months away, attorneys representing the Opportunity residents said their confident the justices will give them their day in court.
"We've been waiting for nine years to get our day in court and we're thinking the court will side with the landowners and against the polluters," said Monte Beck, another Opportunity lawyer.