Justices rule against Montana homeowners near Superfund site

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The United States Supreme Court delivered a setback Monday to Montana homeowners who are seeking additional cleanup of arsenic left over from years of copper smelting.

The court said the homeowners cannot proceed with efforts to decontaminate their own property near the shuttered Anaconda smelter without the permission of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The smelter belongs to BP-owned Atlantic Richfield Co. and sits at the center of a 300-square-mile Superfund site. The company says it has spent $470 million to clean the site.

Homeowners who are dissatisfied with the EPA-ordered cleanup want Atlantic Richfield to pay for the removal of more arsenic-tainted soil from their properties. And the Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that their claims could proceed in state court.

But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the high court that federal environmental law requires the homeowners to seek EPA approval for additional cleanup. “That approval process, if pursued, could ameliorate any conflict between the landowners’ restoration plan and EPA’s Superfund cleanup, just as Congress envisioned,” Roberts wrote.

The case is Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, 17-1498.

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