On April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, et al., holding that (1) the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) does not deprive state courts of jurisdiction over state-law claims related to Superfund sites, and (2) property owners that are potentially responsible parties (PRPs) under CERCLA must obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permission before undertaking remedial activities that diverge from the remedy selected for the site by EPA. In reaching these two seemingly unrelated holdings, the Court made several far-reaching rulings about the contours of the Superfund statute and the interplay between that statute and state law.
Atlantic Richfield concerns the Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site. Beginning in 1884, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company built three smelters — including one with a stack taller than the Washington Monument — near Butte, Montana. Anaconda’s operation impacted the site, and after Atlantic Richfield purchased Anaconda, Congress enacted Superfund and listed the 300-square-mile area as one of the initial Superfund sites on the National Priorities List. EPA has overseen remedial work at the site for 35 years and anticipates that such work will continue until at least 2025.
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