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Exxon Corp. v. Hunt

Citation: 14 ELR 20923
No. No. A-78, 481 A.2d 271/21 ERC 1794/97 N.J. 526, (N.J., 09/19/1984) Aff'd

The court rules that § 114(c) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) does not preempt state hazardous waste cleanup funds so long as those funds cannot be used to compensate for cleanup actions actually compensated for under CERCLA. Initially the court notes that preemption is not favored in the absence of clear congressional intent and that the key question is the compatibility of the parallel state and federal regulation. The court rejects appellants' argument that the result is determined by the plain language of § 114(c), which prohibits state funds whose purpose is to compensate for disposal costs that "may be compensated" under CERCLA. The use of "may" does not necessarily evince an intent to preempt state funds for all costs that conceivably could be compensated under CERCLA; "may" is a flexible term that must be read in light of the legislative history and other indicia of congressional intent. Nor does the fact that the federal and state funds both can be used to compensate for similar types of remedial action at hazardous waste sites require preemption. Congress wrote many provisions of CERCLA to encourage cooperation between state and federal governments, a purpose that would not be served by preemption. That Congress did not intend to preempt all state hazardous waste cleanup funds is further indicated by remarks on the Senate floor by a major sponsor of CERCLA to the effect that § 114(c) was not intended to preempt state funds used either to pay the state matching share that is a prerequisite for some federal cleanup actions, or to compensate for cleanup costs not actually paid for out of the federal fund. The court finds further support in (1) the committee report on 1984 Housepassed amendments to CERCLA stating that § 114(c) was originally intended not to preempt state funds except where there is double taxation in fact, (2) the clear congressional recognition that the federal fund is inadequate to finance all the required cleanup, (3) the interpretation of § 114(c) by the Environmental Protection Agency, which found no intent to preempt nonduplicative uses of state funds, and (4) the general goals of CERCLA to clean up as many abandoned sites as possible.

Counsel for Appellants
John J. Carlin
Farrell, Curtis, Carlin & Davidson
P.O. Box 145, Morristown NJ 07960
(201) 267-8130

Counsel for Respondents
Mary C. Jacobson, Deputy Attorney General
Department of Law & Public Safety
Hughes Justice Complex, CN080, 8th Floor, Trenton NJ 08625
(609) 984-6500

For affirmance — Chief Justice WILENTZ, Justices CLIFFORD, SCHREIBER, HANDLER and POLLOCK, and Judge FRITZ —5.

For reversal — None.