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United States v. Newmont USA Ltd.

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20234
Nos. No. CV-05-020-JLQ, (E.D. Wash., 08/21/2007)

A district court held that the United States is an "owner" of the Midnite Mine Superfund site, a former open-pit uranium mine located on a Native American reservation in Washington State. The United States filed a cleanup action against several mining companies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The companies filed counterclaims, arguing that the United States was an owner of the site. It is undisputed that the United States holds title to the Spokane Indian Reservation. The United States also possessed some other "indicia of ownership" of the property. Hence, the U.S. bundle of ownership rights, along with its title to the property, is more than sufficient to find it to be an owner under CERCLA. The United States had the authority to prevent the very contamination for which it brings this action. This finding is supported by CERCLA's overarching purpose to impose costs of the cleanup on those responsible for the contamination. In addition, the companies' counterclaims were not barred by a CERCLA provision limiting a fiduciary's liability to the value of trust assets.