On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court took up a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) dispute involving the territory of Guam and the United States. At issue in Guam v. United States is who must pay for cleanup costs associated with a landfill formerly operated by the U.S. Navy, into which the Navy deposited spent munitions, chemicals, and other waste. Although Guam asked EPA to address the landfill under CERCLA, the agency proceeded under the Clean Water Act (CWA) instead, and in 2004, Guam entered into a consent decree under the CWA under which the territory agreed to close and remediate the landfill.
On September 8, 2020, in New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), et al. v. American Thermoplastics Corp., et al., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit limited the liability shield a potentially responsible party (PRP) receives when it settles a cost recovery action with a state under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The court held that “a settling-PRP is protected only insofar as a consent decree and a contribution action address the same matters. In effect, our decision encourages a PRP to settle with both the relevant State and Federal Governments.”