WASHINGTON-A May 20 decision in an Alabama federal court could eventually end retroactive liability for Superfund cleanups, something virtually everyone in the rubber industry wants. Legal appeals, however, may well keep the significance of this ruling uncertain for years.
The Justice Department brought suit against Olin Corp. in the federal district court for the Southern District of Alabama, trying to force cleanup of a Superfund site at the Olin facility in McIntosh, Ala.
A consent decree for site cleanup, signed by both Olin and the Justice Department, was submitted with the complaint for the court's approval.
The court unexpectedly rejected both the consent agreement and the suit. The Justice Department, it said, ``errs in claiming that the lower federal courts have `uniformly held that . . . Congress clearly and unequivocally intended retroactive application of (Superfund),' '' wrote Senior District Judge W.B. Hand in his decision.
Nearly all the waste dumped at McIntosh dated from before Dec. 11, 1980, the day Superfund became law, the court noted.
Furthermore, applying Superfund law in this instance violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the judge said.
Justice Department officials denounced the decision as ``an extremely novel and erroneous theory'' of constitutional law, and promised to appeal. The course of appeal-through a federal appeals court and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court-will take months, perhaps years.