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United States v. Waste Indus.

Citation: 14 ELR 20461
No. No. 83-1320, 734 F.2d 159/20 ERC 2089/(4th Cir., 05/08/1984) Rev'd

The court rules that the imminent hazard provision in § 7003 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) applies to inactive hazardous waste sites. The court rules that the district court, 13 ELR 20286, erred in limiting § 7003 to hazards caused by current human activities. Section 7003's placement in a separate subchapter from the hazardous and solid waste regulatory provisions of RCRA indicates Congress' intent to create a remedy for environmental endangerment from hazardous or solid waste independent of the Act's regulatory programs. Section § 7003 is triggered by unsafe "disposal" of hazardous wastes. Although the term is used in the regulatory provisions of Subchapter C to mean current human actions, Congress did not intend to so limit its meaning in § 7003. The narrow interpretation would frustrate the remedial purposes of the Act and ignores the fact that the definition of "disposal" includes "leaking," a term denoting an occurrence, not conduct. Congess intended § 7003 to close a loophole in the protection offered by RCRA.

The court rejects appellees' argument that § 7003 is limited to emergency situations. The statute calls for abatement of hazardous waste pollution that "may present an imminent and substantial endangerment," language that does not connote emergency conditions.

The court finds that the only legislative history addressing the issue supports an expansive reading of § 7003. Congress was silent on the subject when it originally passed RCRA in 1976. However, the legislative record concerning 1980 amendments to the Act is replete with indications that Congress intended § 7003 to apply to endangerments from inactive sites. Although the Environmental Protection Agency originally interpreted § 7003 to apply only to active sites, a subsequent rebuke from a congressional committee and the Agency's reversal of its interpretation support the conclusion that § 7003 covers inactive sites.

The court also rules that § 7003 does more than merely confer jurisdiction. Section 7003 also establishes the basis for substantive liability built upon, but expanding, common law nuisance liability. Although a court of its own accord arguably may not invoke common law principles to augment a comprehensive statutory regulatory scheme, Congress can give the courts that power.

The court rules that § 7003 was not applied retroactively in the instant case. Regulations implementing § 7003 were not promulgated until after the complaint was filed, but § 7003 is not dependent on regulations for its application. The court also the holds that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act did not displace or repeal § 7003.

Counsel for Appellant
Wendy B. Jacobs, Martin W. Matzen
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4010

Gary Clemmons; Samuel T. Currin, U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 26897, Raleigh NC 27611
(919) 755-4530

Counsel for Appellees
A. Dumay Gorman Jr.
Marshall, Williams, Gorman & Brawley
P.O. Drawer 2088, Wilmington NC 28402-2088
(919) 763-9891

Fred B. Davenport Jr.
Murchison, Taylor & Shell
16 N. 5th Ave., Wilmington NC 28401-4593
(919) 763-2426

Counsel for Amicus Curiae
Robert W. Frantz, David F. Zoll, Richard G. Stoll
Chemical Manufacturers Association
2501 M St. NW, Washington DC 20037
(202) 887-1100

Joined by Widener and Butzner, JJ.