(CN) – A Chicago electroplating firm most pay more than $2.5 million to the EPA after a federal judge granted the federal government’s request for summary judgment in a case related to the cleanup of hazardous waste on the company’s property.
Additionally, the ruling places the company on the hook for “all costs incurred after… the latest date included in the government’s cost calculations,” the ruling said.
In 2008, the United States filed suit against James Saporito, an owner of Crescent Plating Works, an electroplating facility in Chicago, “seeking to recover the costs the government incurred in cleaning up hazardous substances” at the facility, according to the order.
The court rejected Saporito’s contention that “because his liability derives solely from ownership of [equipment dismantled in 2004],” the suit is barred by the three-year statute of limitations on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980.
Saporito also argued that CERCLA “is unconstitutional, reasoning that Congress exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause by empowering the EPA to regulate environmental hazards that do not ‘have effects in more than one state’ and to regulate ‘spills at a [single] Site.'”
But U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman disagreed, pointing out that U.S. appellate courts have rejected such contentions in the past.
For example, Feinerman said, the 11th Circuit found that “even wholly intrastate disposal of hazardous wastes can threaten interstate and foreign commerce, as those wastes can contaminate streams that run through landfills and feed into tributaries of navigable waters.”
In addition to procedural and legal objections, Saporito’s attorneys offered several reasons why the chemical releases in question were not sufficiently hazardous to merit granting the government millions of dollars in damages.
The court rejected these arguments. Reciting a previous phase of the litigation, Judge Feinerman noted that “it is undisputed that thousands of gallons of hazardous waste were being stored unsafely … [and] that there was a threatened release at the time of cleanup.”
Saporito argues that the government did not specify whether this seemingly massive quantity was “reportable,” and “[u]nless such a determination is required and made… the government could remove ‘vitamins from a medicine chest, dig up soil around a home, or eliminate flaking paint from a garage door’ because vitamins, soil, and paint contain minerals that can be deemed hazardous substances.”
“Saporito’s concern that this holding would grant “near-unlimited police power” to the EPA is unwarranted,” responded the court. “The government may access property in non-emergency conditions only if the owner consents or, if consent is denied, a judicial order authorizes access.”
In addition to cleanup costs incurred by the government both before and after this suit was filed, Saporito also faces payment of possibly one million dollars of the government’s legal expenses.
In conclusion, Feinerman acknowledged that granting summary judgment for a plaintiff at a pre-trial stage, in such a high-stakes case, “is a harsh result.” Nonetheless, he emphasized, “CERCLA and the binding precedents that interpret and apply the statute impose a relatively unforgiving regime on individuals like Saporito found to be responsible parties.”