Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and dozens of military veterans rallied outside the Supreme Court today as the justices heard arguments that an electronics company was responsible for contamination at its old plant in Asheville, North Carolina.
The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, will decide if federal environmental law preempts North Carolina’s statute of repose, which imposes a 10-year limit to file a claim. A ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of CTS Corporation could create a climate in which corporate polluters would be “rewarded” for concealment and material misrepresentati
The decision has major implications for litigation against the United States for contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. The camp’s drinking water was contaminated with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987.
The rally began at the Upper Senate Park, ending outside the Supreme Court. Other speakers included Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Camp Lejeune Marine; Mike Partain, breast cancer survivor and the son of a Camp Lejeune Marine, and Kris Thomas, also a breast cancer survivor and son of a Camp Lejeune Marine.
“It’s probably one of the largest pollution problems we have in the country. We have service men and women coming home to their families who had no idea the land they were living on was polluted, that their families have been poisoned, that their children are dying,” Brockovich said at the rally.
According to North Carolina state law, the victims may no longer have the legal recourse to sue. CTS Corporation sold the land and shut down the plant in 1987. The state statute relieves the company from any liability 10 years after its last contaminating act — making 1997 the deadline to sue, despite the fact that the chemicals weren’t discovered until 1997.
The court heard oral arguments in the case today.
“We just want the opportunity to present our cases in court and allow the merits of our cases to be the determining factor,” said Ensminger, who lost his 9-year old daughter to leukemia and is convinced her leukemia was caused by the water contamination.
Tim Templeton from Kansas City, Missouri, helps run a Facebook group called “Contaminated Marines of Camp Lejeune.” Templeton was stationed at Camp Lejeune and maintains that he is a poisoned patriot suffering from an immune deficiency. “Government can have its cake and eat it too, which they do. I would say it’s awful strange and doesn’t really square with reality for them to be supporting the polluters side of the argument just merely because of the convenience,” Templeton said.
The Department of Justice has sided with CTS Corporation.
“We are referring to [the DOJ] as the Department of Injustice. How could you possibly side with the contaminator? This is an example of the Department of Justice coming off the tracks. They have lost their way,” said Tate McQueen, one of the litigants.
The court will consider whether a federal environmental law can override state law. The federal law allows victims to move forward with their claims when they first learned they had been sickened by chemicals at Camp Lejeune.
“At the surface to see a brief come out of this current administrations office AG that stands with CTS – that isn’t going to stand with a soldier at Camp Lejeune. It looks like they are trying to get out of cleaning up their own mess. That’s not fair, that’s hypocritical and I find it really disappointing and very concerning, and it would concern any vet,” said Brockovich.