U.S. Court Rejects GE Challenge to EPA Cleanup Orders

June 7, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday rejected General Electric Co.’s legal challenge to part of a federal law that gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to order companies to clean up hazardous waste.

The justices let stand a U.S. appeals court ruling that upheld a provision of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as the Superfund law, that seeks to ensure polluters pay for environmental hazards they created.

The law gives the EPA the power to issue unilateral orders directing companies clean up hazardous waste for which they are responsible if the sites pose an imminent and substantial threat to public safety.

A federal judge and then the appeals court rejected GE’s challenge to the law.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, GE said the cleanup orders violated constitutional due-process rights and impermissibly coerced compliance.

Companies that refuse to follow the orders can face large fines, significant decreases in their stock price and increases in their financing costs, GE said.

It said the EPA in the last 30 years has issued 1,700 orders to more than 5,400 companies in compelling actions costing $5 billion, without any advance notice or hearing before their issuance.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group supported GE.

The U.S. Department of Justice opposed GE’s appeal. It said the law provided sufficient procedural safeguards and companies that refuse to comply with an order can get a federal court hearing.

The Supreme Court refused to hear GE’s appeal without comment.

The Supreme Court case is General Electric v. Lisa Jackson, administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, No. 10-871.

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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