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J.V. Peters & Co. v. Ruckelshaus

ELR Citation: 14 ELR 20277
Nos. No. C83-4436, 584 F. Supp. 1005/20 ERC 222/(N.D. Ohio, 02/17/1984)

The court rules that the owners and operators of a hazardous waste storage facility may challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) decision to undertake a response action at the facility under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), but that the challenge must specifically allege violations of CERCLA and implementing regulations and set forth material facts supporting the allegations. The court first rules that plaintiffs have standing to pursue their claim that EPA's proposed response action is inconsistent with CERCLA and the National Contingency Plan (NCP). The high likelihood that EPA will seek to recover its response costs from plaintiff under CERCLA §107 satisfies the constitutional requirements of an injury-in-fact that is traceable to EPA's action and within the court's power to remedy. Plaintiffs' interest in not being held liable for improperly incurred response costs also is within the zone of interests protected by CERCLA since Congress required EPA to follow the NCP in carrying out response actions.

The court also rules that the challenged action is final and ripe for judicial review. EPA's decision to begin a response action is final because it launches a process that could impose substantial financial liability on plaintiffs and there is no administrative procedure for challenging the decision. The issue is ripe for judicial review because this is the only time at which the response action can be challenged before it is performed.

However, the court also rules that plaintiffs' complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs' claim that defendants failed to assess either the magnitude of the hazard presented by their waste site or plaintiffs' ability to provide an adequate response themselves is general and conclusory. Allowing such nonspecific claims would contravene Congress' clear intent that EPA be able to respond quickly to hazardous waste sites that "may" present a threat to health and the environment. Only claims alleging specific violations and supported by material facts should be allowed. The court also rejects plaintiffs' claim that CERCLA's response process violates their due process rights. The risk of erroneous deprivation of plaintiffs' rights is small because they can protect those rights if and when EPA brings a liability action under §107. Further procedural safeguards would frustrate the significant public interest in enabling EPA to react quickly to environmental and health threats from hazardous waste facilities.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Brent L. English
611 Park Bldg., 140 Euclid Ave., Cleveland OH 44114
(216) 781-9917

Counsel for Respondents
Kathleen Sutula, Ass't U.S. Attorney
1404 E. 9th St., Suite 500, Cleveland OH 44114
(216) 522-4394

David T. Buente Jr., Michael W. Steinberg
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2281