Justice Dept. Sides with Polluters in Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Case
The Obama administration is backing a corporate polluter in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that has implications for U.S. Marines and their families exposed to contaminated water.
The case (CTS Corporation v. Waldburger [pdf]) does not involve Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where for decades Marines, civilian workers and their relatives accessed water from underground wells tainted with hazardous chemicals.
But it does involve a North Carolina law that, if upheld by the court, could block victims of the Camp Lejeune from seeking justice.
The state law in question establishes a 10-year “statute of repose” that says anyone exposed to environmental pollution has only a decade to file their claims—even if they weren’t aware of the contamination until long after the 10-year period.
Wells at Camp Lejeune were contaminated with industrial solvents, including trichloroethylene (TCE) and benzene, from the 1950s until the mid-1980s. But the military suppressed information about the polluting, resulting in victims not learning about the tainted water supply until the late 1990s and later.
CTS Corporation is trying to avoid liability for pollution it caused elsewhere in North Carolina by arguing the state’s statute of repose trumps federal law, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (pdf), upon which Camp Lejeune victims are basing their claims.
A victory for CTS would represent a major defeat for Camp Lejeune parties, and the Obama administration—despite the president’s professed support for the environment and veterans—seems just fine with that outcome.
In a brief filed in support of CTS’ legal fight, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote: “The fact that some plaintiffs will be unaware of their claims until after the statute of repose expires is an inherent feature of statutes of repose.” Exposing polluters to greater liability could discourage voluntary disclosure and cleanup, it said, as well as pose a burden to industry, according to USA Today.
The Obama administration’s actions came under criticism from at least one government watchdog group that wants justice for the Camp Lejeune victims.
“It is ludicrous to presume that the victims of Camp Lejuene should have sought relief before they even knew they were victims. And it is absolutely shameful that DOJ is seeking to deny justice to the Marines, families, and civilians who were poisoned by the country they served,” Angela Canterbury, director of the Project on Government Oversight, said in a prepared statement.
To Learn More:
DOJ Gets It Wrong on Camp Lejeune – Again (by Christine Anderson, Project On Government Oversight)
Government Straddles Both Sides in Toxic Water Cases (by Richard Wolf, USA Today)
Senate Committee Releases 8,000 Documents Relating to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
Author of Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Report Criticizes Military for Censoring Details (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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