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Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Contaminants

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At issue is whether it's constitutional for a state to give people only a 10-year window to file lawsuits after a company has stopped polluting.
Cathy Haglund/http://www.flickr.com/photos/haglundc/3946685535/
At issue is whether it's constitutional for a state to give people only a 10-year window to file lawsuits after a company has stopped polluting.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today that could have far-reaching impacts for troops and their families exposed to contaminants.

Two years ago, President Obama signed a law providing medical compensation for Marines and their families who drank contaminated water at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune. Retired Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger lost his 9-year-old daughter Janey to Leukemia after being stationed at the base. He's shocked the Obama administration tossed its weight behind a Supreme Court case that could upend the bill the president signed.

"I feel betrayed," Ensminger says.

At issue is whether it's constitutional for a state to give people only a 10-year window to file lawsuits after a company has stopped polluting. Consumer Advocate Erin Brockovich says that's not enough time, and the case could set terrible precedent for states in the region.

"For all of us—and there [are] so many polluted sites across the country—after that timeframe, even if you get cancer, you have no recourse," Brockovich says.

Ryan Murray, who represents the company accused of polluting, says federal lawmakers intended to give states broad latitude in carrying through with the congressional mandate to clean up contaminated sites.

"We believe the Congress acted very narrowly in what is traditionally a broad state responsibility—area of state law—and we think they said what they meant and meant what they said."

Critics fear upholding the North Carolina law will bring a flood of similar bills from across the United States.

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