The Supreme Court will review a Superfund cost recovery case that left Guam with a $160 million cleanup bill for a landfill leaking toxic chemicals into the Pacific Ocean, the court announced Friday.
Guam argued the court should grant certiorari because the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit below left the territory “on the hook for a cleanup bill that would amount to a trillion dollar outlay for the Federal Government, even though the United States itself built the dumpsite at issue and used it for decades to dump toxic waste generated by the Navy,” it said in its reply brief.
The Justice Department said in its Dec. 8 brief that the territory is responsible for contamination from the Ordot Dump in Guam’s central region, which the territory has operated for decades. The federal government had pressed the high court not to take the case.
Guam expected to pay about $160 million for the dump’s cleanup, which exceeds the combined annual budget of its health, police, fire, public works, solid waste, and environmental departments, the territory said.
The U.S. sued the territory in 2002 under the Clean Water Act to stop Guam from allowing waste and contaminants in the dump to leach into adjacent rivers. The parties settled in 2004 with a consent decree that required Guam to pay a civil penalty, close the dump, stop the pollutants from leaching out, and build a replacement municipal landfill.
The appeals court decided in February that the territory waited too long to file its Superfund claims because the consent decree started a 3-year statute of limitations.
In its brief, the government said the consent decree resolved Guam’s liability for cleanup at the dump by ordering the territory to take responsibility.
Guam acquired the Ordot Dump from the Navy when its newly established civilian government took over in 1950. Guam continued to operate the landfill for the next 60 years, according to the Justice Department’s brief.
The Environmental Protection Agency added the Ordot Dump to its list of Superfund sites in 1983.
The case is Territory of Guam v. U.S., U.S., No. 20-382, cert. granted 1/8/21.