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United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, Inc.

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 21055
Nos. CIV-S-91-768 DFL JFM, 987 F. Supp. 1277/(E.D. Cal., 10/28/1997) U.S. government liability for WWII activity

The court holds that U.S. activities at a California mine during World War II did not subject it to liability as an operator under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). During the war, the United States encouraged national mine production through government funding, subsidies, and financing. The court first holds that the corporate successor to the mining company failed to show that the United States exercised the requisite degree of authority or control over the mine to subject it to liability as an operator. Even if the government assisted, facilitated, and provided incentives in the way that the corporate successor claims, the government still would not be an operator under CERCLA. While it may have monitored activity at the mine, the United States did not participate in day-to-day management nor did it have the right to do so. Despite its creation of various mining incentives, the government did not compel the mining company to do any mining. Furthermore, although aware that acid mine drainage was a foreseeable result of the mining, the government did not assume responsibility for the drainage or relieve the mining company from responsibility. And, in terms of basic operational decisions, the mining company remained firmly in charge and never shared control with the United States. That the mining company was motivated to seek the government's business by government subsidies is irrelevant. Simply because the government was able to achieve its goals indirectly by using economic incentives does not, under CERCLA, make it directly liable. Neither during or immediately after the war did the United States control or influence waste disposal methods used at the mine. The government was aware that the mine would produce acid mine drainage, but knowledge alone does not amount to control. The court next holds that if the paved road, which the government supervised construction of, is a source of hazardous waste release, the government may be liable as anarranger as to the road. But the isolated instance of government involvement with an accumulated quantity of mining rubble is not sufficient to deem the government an operator of the mine.

[Other decisions in this litigation are published at 28 ELR 21059 and 21064. Prior decisions in this litigation are published at 23 ELR 20651 and 20661, 25 ELR 21275, and 27 ELR 20924.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
David B. Glazer, Martin F. McDermott
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Paul B. Galvani, James W. Matthews
Ropes & Gray
One International Pl., Boston MA 02110
(617) 951-7000