Superfund, copyright cases to go before SCOTUS this week

Bridge over Chippewa and Tittabawassee rivers. The latter is a Superfund site | Phil Squattrito

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court this week is slated to take up a case over states’ roles in demanding cleanup of hazardous waste sites. 

The case surrounds a Superfund site at a smelter in Montana, but the outcome could also have broad implications for cleanups in other states. 

A company that has been working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s direction to address the contamination at the Montana smelter is challenging a lower court decision that allowed private landowners to seek additional cleanup requirements under state law. The state remedies, the company warned the court, could require companies to pay for efforts directly at odds with the EPA’s cleanup plans. 

Watchdog agency: 21 Michigan Superfund sites threatened by climate change

Several states have urged the high court to respect their authority to respond to environmental problems within their borders. 

Congress deliberately declined to enact provisions in the Superfund law “that would have prevented States from imposing additional liability and requirements on entities that release hazardous substances,” the states wrote in a brief. 

The states that signed on to that brief were Virginia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. 

Michigan Superfund sites | GAO

Oral arguments in the Superfund case are scheduled for Tuesday. 

Georgia copyright case

Also on Monday, the justices will hear oral arguments in a case over whether Georgia can copyright a publication of its state laws. 

The dispute arose when the nonprofit group Public.Resource.Org, Inc. purchased the Official Code of Georgia Annotated — a publication including state laws as well as background information — and uploaded them to its website to be available to the public. 

Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia | Getty Images

Georgia contends that it and other states “rely on copyright incentives to induce private publishers to prepare and publish annotated official codes,” but Public Resources argues that legal works adopted or published under the authority of the state can’t be copyrighted under an exception that bars such protections for “government edicts” like the text of laws. 

In addition to Georgia, 20 other states have registered a copyright in all or part of their codes, Public Resource told the court. They are: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.