At the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday morning, lawyers for the General Electric Co. and the Environmental Protection Agency sparred over the constitutionality of a legal tool used to force the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Carter Phillips, managing partner of Sidley Austin‘s D.C. office, faced off against Justice Department attorney Sambhav Sankar.

The D.C. Circuit appeal is the latest chapter in a decadelong effort by GE to prove that a provision of the federal Superfund statute is unconstitutional. The Superfund statute, known formally as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, was passed in 1980 to ensure that polluters would pay for the environmental hazards they created. The provision in question permits the EPA to unilaterally order a private party to clean up a site that poses an “imminent and substantial” threat to public safety. Companies that fail to follow the unilateral administrative order face stiff fines.

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