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United States v. Olin Corp.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20778
Nos. No. 96-6645, 107 F.3d 1506/(11th Cir., 03/25/1997) rev'd

The court holds that applying the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to on-site disposal of hazardous substances does not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that CERCLA applies to hazardous substance disposal that predated the statute's enactment. The court first holds that although Congress did not include in CERCLA either legislative findings or a jurisdictional element, the statute remains valid as applied because it regulates the disposal of hazardous waste on-site—a class of activities that substantially affects interstate commerce. The district court erred in holding that United States v. Lopez, 115 S. Ct. 1624 (1995), requires that a statute regulate economic activity directly and contain a jurisdictional element to satisfy the Commerce Clause. A statute without a jurisdictional element still would stand under the Commerce Clause, if the law satisfied the substantial effects test. CERCLA's legislative history documents how the unregulated management of hazardous substances, even strictly within individual states, significantly impacts interstate commerce.

The court next rejects the district court's ruling that CERCLA's response cost liability scheme applies only to disposals after the statute's enactment. Even absent explicit statutory language mandating retroactivity, laws may be applied retroactively if courts are able to discern clear congressional intent favoring such a result. By imposing liability on former owners and operators, Congress manifested a clear intent to reach conduct preceding CERCLA's enactment.

[The district court's opinion in this litigation is published at 26 ELR 21303. Briefs and pleadings in this litigation are digested at ELR BRIEFS & PLEADS. 66483.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
John Bryson
Environmental and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Michael Steinberg
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
1800 M St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 467-7141

Before ANDERSON, Circuit Judge, and KRAVITCH and HENDERSON, Senior Circuit Judges.