Circuit Punts Costs on Tahoe Landfill Cleanup

El Dorado County landfill, via USFS

This is a question of which taxpayer pocket the money comes from to pay an added $13 million to clean toxics from a long-abandoned dump near Lake Tahoe.  The U.S. Forest Service has failed in its effort to force El Dorado County to pick up a larger share of clean-up costs for an abandoned 20-acre landfill near the lake.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals booted the case back to the trial judge saying the appeals court lacked jurisdiction to act on a dispute that was resolved through a consent decree outlining the terms for the clean-up between the county and USFS.

The landfill on Forest Service land operated from 1955 to 1971 under a USFS permit.  After its closure in 1971, toxic chemicals were found in groundwater near the landfill.

After lawsuits and rounds of negotiation a deal was struck obligating the county to begin a clean-up program that the USFS developed.

The landfill was found to contain vinyl chloride, a carcinogen that is produced by the breakdown of household waste.

The county discovered defects in the USFS plan that required expanded remediation and would cost more money, an estimated $13 million.  El Dorado County said the added cost was the federal government’s problem because it created the clean-up plan.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England in Sacrament ruled the plan did contain significant errors that increased the cost and the federal government had to pay that cost, according to the appeals court.

England suspended the existing consent decree pending a hearing to decide just how much the feds would have to pay.

The USFS appealed asking the 9th Circuit to step in to reinstate the consent decree.

The 9th Circuit refused.  It held the case has no final order until the trial judge holds the hearing on costs and rules.  The judge did not cancel the consent decree, only suspended it temporarily.  Judges Clifford Wallace, Carlos Bea and visiting Judge Jane Restani, from the Court of International Trade issued the opinion.

So back to the Sacramento court this case goes to sort out whether taxpayers in El Dorado kick in the money or federal taxpayers are tapped to get years of vinyl chloride pollution out of the landfill.

Case:  USA v. El Dorado County, No. 11-17134



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