by Bob Egelko / San Francisco Chronicle –
(December 12, 2003 ) — A lawsuit by Filipinos seeking to require the US government to assess pollution near two former military bases has been dismissed by a San Jose federal judge, who said the nation’s toxic cleanup law doesn’t apply abroad.
The ruling Monday by US District Judge James Ware was the first by any federal court on the overseas application of the 1980 Superfund law, which requires the government to survey hazardous waste sites and order cleanup of those posing the greatest risk to human health.
The law has a domestic focus, Ware said, citing language that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to set cleanup priorities “among releases or threatened releases throughout the United States.” He said US laws are presumed to apply only domestically unless Congress clearly states otherwise, in part, to avoid clashes with foreign laws.
Ruling would Permit Pentagon to Pollute Abroad ‘with Impunity’
The ruling comes in the wake of President Bush’s approval of a military spending bill that includes exemptions for the armed forces from some environmental laws protecting endangered species and marine mammals. That measure was unrelated to the San Jose lawsuit.
Ware’s ruling, if upheld, would allow the US military to contaminate foreign lands and harm residents with impunity, said Saul Bloom, executive director of Arc Ecology in San Francisco, a plaintiff in the suit. He promised an appeal.
The suit was filed a year ago by two US advocacy groups and almost three dozen Filipinos who lived on or alongside the former Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Force Base.
The US military withdrew from both bases in the early 1990s, but say the water was fouled with chemicals that have sickened and even killed children, and the ground remains littered with unexploded bombs. The plaintiffs include children who drank the water and now have multiple deformities and heart ailments, Bloom said.
The Pentagon has denied that the US military caused widespread contamination and says the Philippine government is now responsible for the sites.
Bloom said Philippine legislators have complained about contamination at the bases, but the Philippine government has never filed a formal complaint, in part because the United States reinterpreted a treaty in 1992 to strengthen its protection from liability.
Copyright 2003 SF Chronicle.
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