(CN) - The U.S. government cannot defy a court-ordered suspension of its deal with a county to clean up an abandoned, toxic landfill near Lake Tahoe, the 9th Circuit ruled.
El Dorado County entered into a consent decree with the government after the 1996 discovery of toxic chemicals in groundwater near an old landfill located on U.S. Forest Service Land near the scenic lake.
The site was opened in the 1950s and abandoned in 1971. El Dorado County had to reform the site under the agreement, but it later sought modification after finding several alleged defects.
U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. later found that the plan did indeed contain errors that would likely increase the cost of the cleanup, and that the government should pay those costs. He put the decree on hold pending further hearings to determine just how much more the effort would cost.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit dismissed the government's appeal Friday.
Since the suspension was not a final order, the panel found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider an appeal. The government also failed to show that it would it be unduly harmed by the panel's refusal to review the issue at this stage.
"The government has not shown that it will suffer serious, perhaps irreparable harm if we do not review the district court's order now," J. Clifford Wallace wrote for the panel. "The government argues that if the order freeing the county from its obligations is allowed to stand even temporarily, further damage to the landfill site is a serious possibility. However, at worst, the government must pay for the clean up activities itself and then be reimbursed. This kind of harm does not qualify."