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Chevron Mining Inc. v. DOI

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20090
Nos. 15-2209, (10th Cir., 07/19/2017)

The Tenth Circuit held that a mining company has the right to recover cleanup costs at a Superfund site because the U.S. government was an owner under the statute. Over the last century, the mining company and its corporate predecessors mined molybdenum at a site near Questa, New Mexico. The mining activities produced significant amounts of hazardous waste, and EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List in 2011. The mining company acknowledged it was a potentially responsible party prior to the Agency's designation, and began remediation measures pursuant to EPA administrative orders. The company then brought suit against the U.S. for contribution claiming that the government, as the lessor of the site, was an owner under CERCLA. The government argued that "bare legal title" was not enough to trigger owner liability. The court disagreed, stating that CERLCA contains neither an express nor an implied exception to owner liability for holders of “bare legal title." The court explained that at a minimum, the term “owner” covers fee title holders for purposes of CERCLA liability, irrespective of any additional indicia of ownership. The case was remanded for further proceedings.