A federal court in Montana has ruled in favor of McGuireWoods client Asarco LLC in a significant environmental case, ordering Atlantic Richfield Co. to pay Asarco $28 million toward the cleanup of a Montana Superfund site. McGuireWoods partner Gregory Evans is Asarco’s lead trial lawyer.
Copper mining giant Asarco sued Atlantic Richfield seeking repayment for some of the $114 million Asarco paid the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Montana to clean arsenic from groundwater near its former East Helena Smelter complex. Atlantic Richfield’s predecessor, The Anaconda Co., operated a slag reprocessing facility on the Asarco property for 45 years. Atlantic Richfield denied any releases of arsenic, a position rejected by the U.S. District Court.
“Asarco produced substantial and convincing evidence establishing that these Anaconda releases resulted in the migration of arsenic into the groundwater, which directly contributed to the arsenic plumes that are driving the East Helena site cleanup,” the court ruled.
The court initially dismissed Asarco’s lawsuit in 2014, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling last year, providing needed clarity on when a settling party such as Asarco can seek contribution from nonsettling parties under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Evans argued the case at the appeals court.
The district court’s June 26 decision marks another important milestone in Asarco’s efforts to claw back millions of dollars from parties that contributed to contamination at sites Asarco paid to clean up under its settlement in the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, Evans said.
“The court’s judgment provides a very good example for companies eager to do what is right for the environment and for communities,” Evans said. “It demonstrates that our primary federal environmental law — CERCLA — works as designed, encouraging companies to settle environmental liabilities, quickly putting needed resources into environmental cleanup, allowing settling parties to pursue contribution later.”
The National Law Journal honored Evans in its Energy and Environmental Trailblazers issue as a pioneer in environmental litigation, citing his work representing Asarco. Evans also earned recognition in Financial Times’ prestigious North America Innovative Lawyers report and in Law360 as an “Environmental MVP.”
Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, Asarco is an integrated copper mining, smelting and refining company. Its parent company is Grupo Mexico.