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Supreme Court protects incentives for voluntary pollution clean-up

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that companies who voluntarily clean up pollution can sue to get other responsible parties to pay their share of the clean up costs. Significantly, a company that pays for clean up will not have to wait for EPA involvement before it would be able to get those other resposible parties to pay their share. The opinion should help reduce delays in the clean up of industrial pollution. Furthermore, the opinion will incentivize clean up of pollution that might not otherwise have occurred.

Had the Court come out the other way, a company would have had to wait for EPA involvement before it could force other responsible parties to pay their share. The problem with this would have been that the EPA gets involved in less than a thousand cases a year whereas there are over 45,000 sites nationwide that are contaminated with hazardous or toxic material. This disparity would have meant that some sites would have been left polluted for decades until the problem became serious enough to get the EPA’s attention. However, the Court’s decision should avoid this undesirable result.

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