Supreme Court To Hear Case On Industrial-Cleanup Costs

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case between Atlantic Research Corp. and the federal government to decide who pays for industrial cleanup costs.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear an environmental case that could clarify who pays for industrial cleanup costs and if companies can seek to force the government to share the bill.

Atlantic Research Corp., a privately held company, is asking the Supreme Court to rule that it can recover cleanup costs from the federal government which could potentially total millions of dollars. If it prevails, other companies could recover millions of dollars in cleanup costs from the federal or state governments.

At issue is whether companies can sue other potentially liable parties, including the government, to recover costs under the so-called ''Superfund'' law before they are found liable under the terms of the law.

Atlantic Research retrofitted rocket motors under contract with the United States from 1981 to 1986 at an industrial park in Camden, Ark., according to court filings. The company sued the federal government in 2002, seeking to recover costs for the park's cleanup due to its rocket propellant contamination.

A district court sided with the government, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Atlantic could proceed with its suit even though it had not been found liable under the Superfund law.

In a 2004 case, Cooper Industries v. Aviall Services, the court found that companies could only seek to recover costs from other parties if they had reached a settlement with federal or state authorities under Superfund.

But the court left open the question whether a company could seek to recover costs from other parties if it did a voluntary cleanup.

Three federal appeals courts have issued split decisions since the Supreme Court's Cooper ruling. The Bush administration urged the court to accept the DuPont and Atlantic Research cases in order to resolve the split.

The Justice Department's Solicitor General, the federal government's lawyer, urged the Supreme Court to take the Atlantic case to resolve the lower court conflict.

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