Some Hope for Camp LejeuneTweet
July 7, 2014
What could’ve been a major hang-up for Camp Lejeune water contamination victims has potentially been nullified. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of known polluters, seriously jeopardizing the status of claims filed by contamination victims like those affected by water pollution at Camp Lejeune. Luckily, quick, bipartisan action by the North Carolina legislature has reopened the door for lawsuits by victims seeking justice for decades of contamination on the military’s watch.
Earlier this month, the situation looked bad for the victims of water contamination spanning decades at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina. In a 7-2 ruling on June 9, the Supreme Court decided in favor of a known polluter in CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, a North Carolina groundwater contamination lawsuit. The Court decided that a North Carolina law with a 10-year “statute of repose” can bar victims of toxic pollution from suing the polluters, even if they did not become aware of surreptitious dumping until much later. As Heather White from the Environmental Working Group pointed out, the Court is essentially saying “that if polluters can keep their acts secret until the deadline set by the statute of repose expires, Americans have no right to sue.” Though CTS Corp. v. Waldburger is not directly tied to the Camp Lejeune claims, a negative precedent could be dire for all water contamination victims, as we’ve explained on the blog previously. When the Supreme Court ruling came out, it looked like one major option was closed.
In a joint press release with those affected by the contamination at Camp Lejeune, the Environmental Working Group, and environmental activist Erin Brockovich, the Project On Government Oversight voiced its disappointment with both the Court and the Administration. “We fear that this may set the precedent that the Obama administration sought—denying justice to those harmed by toxic pollution at Camp Lejeune and elsewhere.”
The Administration has been talking out of both sides of its mouth on the issues related to CTS Corp. v. Waldburger. While President Obama spoke of the need for caring for our veterans in his signing of the Janey Ensminger Act, a law that provides some health care benefits to Camp Lejeune victims, the Administration’s actions on this court case have suggested different motives. Directly following the ruling, the Department of Justice, which has now filed two amicus briefs in support of the polluters in this case, sent a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit requesting that Camp Lejeune cases be thrown out based on the precedent set by CTS Corp. v. Waldburger.
The power this ruling gives to polluters, and the support given for it by the Administration, also proves contradictory to environmental aims. Retired Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, former Camp Lejeune Marine and advocate for victims, put it bluntly when talking with POGO: “My major question to the Administration is what happened to the environmental plank of the Democrat’s party platform? Did it rot?”
Yet advocates for the Camp Lejeune victims did not give up. The North Carolina legislature quickly picked up a bill that seeks to clarify state laws that address rights in lawsuits related to toxic dumping and contamination. After swift passage through both chambers of the North Carolina legislature, the governor signed the bill on June 20.
We commend the North Carolina legislature for its quick action and hope this change will prove enough to counter the Administration’s claims that Camp Lejeune cases should be dismissed. The victims have been waiting for justice long enough; it’s time the Administration stops getting in the way.
For more information on the Camp Lejeune water contamination and POGO’s work related to it, please see our resource page here.
To take action on this important issue, click here.
Public Policy Fellow, POGO
At the time of publication Christine Anderson was a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.
Topics: Government Accountability
Authors: Christine Anderson
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