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Supreme Court may Decide Contamination Case

  Environmental  -   POSTED: 2007/06/06 12:28

A high-stakes legal battle over a century of smelter contamination dumped into the Columbia River by a Canadian mining and smelting giant may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court issued an order today inviting the U.S. Solicitor General – the lead lawyer for the Bush administration – to file an amicus brief on behalf of one or more of the parties in the complex case, filed in 2004 against Teck Cominco Ltd. by two leaders of the Colville Confederated Tribes.

The high court’s order doesn’t necessarily mean the justices have agreed to accept the case, said Mary Sue Wilson, a senior assistant attorney general for Washington state in Olympia.

“We don’t think it’s a signal either way. It’s not unusual for the court to ask, what does the U.S. government have to say?,” Wilson said.

The litigation was brought by Joe Pakootas and D.R. Michel under the “citizen’s suit” provisions of Superfund in an effort to force Teck Cominco to pay for an environmental cleanup of Lake Roosevelt.

Teck Cominco, based in Vancouver, B.C., claims it would only be subject to Superfund, the U.S. law governing toxic waste cleanups, if it had “arranged” for the waste to end up in the United States.

Last July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed that argument and ruled that Teck Cominco is subject to U.S. toxic waste cleanup laws. That ruling was hailed by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who called it “good news for all Washingtonians.”

On Oct. 30, the court reiterated its position after lawyers for Teck Cominco unsuccessfully petitioned for a rehearing. Teck Cominco filed an immediate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For months, the court has been silent on whether it would accept or reject the case, which legal experts have called a unique use of Superfund’s “citizen’s suit” provision in an effort to compel a foreign company to clean up under strict U.S. cleanup laws.

Additional briefing in the case could take two to six months, Wilson said.


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