The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected arguments by the federal government that allowing an aerospace contractor to pass through certain CERCLA remediation costs back to the government under its existing government contracts constituted an impermissible double recovery under CERCLA. Lockheed Martin Corp. v. U.S. (D.C. Cir. Aug. 19, 2016). Lockheed had incurred in excess of $287 million to remediate several contaminated sites where it had manufactured solid-propellant rockets pursuant to government contracts. Lockheed sued the government under CERCLA to recover a portion of its costs incurred to remediate these sites, alleging that the government was directly responsible under CERCLA for a portion of these costs due to the government’s acquiescence in certain of Lockheed’s disposal activities. At the same time, however, the government and Lockheed had entered into an agreement pursuant to which the government agreed that Lockheed was entitled to recover a portion of its remedial costs as indirect costs charged through its current government contracts (the “Billing Agreement”).
The district court engaged in a thorough analysis of the typical CERCLA equitable contribution factors and allocated a specific percentage of liability to Lockheed and a specific percentage of liability to the government (the percentages varied across the sites). On appeal, the government pointed to the fact that Lockheed was already recovering a significant portion of its remedial costs from the government through the Billing Agreement and argued that any further obligation on the part of the government to reimburse Lockheed for additional remedial costs was inconsistent with CERCLA’s broad equitable principles and constituted an impermissible double recovery under CERCLA Section 114.
Relying in large part on the Billing Agreement, the D.C. Circuit noted that “the government agreed to [Lockheed’s recovery of its response costs] by entering into a settlement that allowed Lockheed in its new contracts to charge the government for the company’s own CERCLA liability at the discontinued sites.” Notwithstanding that the D.C. Circuit appeared sympathetic to the government’s claim that CERCLA was not designed to provide for a government-funded cleanup program but instead intended to shift remediation costs to the polluting party, here the government voluntarily agreed to the complained of funding mechanism when it entered into the Billing Agreement. In response to the government’s argument that allowing Lockheed to continue to pass these remedial costs through the Billing Agreement constituted an impermissible “double recovery,” the D.C. Circuit noted that the district court found that crediting mechanism agreed to by the parties would preclude any perceived “double recovery” and the D.C. Circuit found no reason to disturb that finding. Interestingly, the D.C. Circuit specifically stated that nothing in the Federal Acquisition Regulations or the Defense Contract Audit Agency Manual mandated the crediting mechanism agreed to by the parties but the D.C. Circuit declined to opine on the interplay of federal contracting law and CERCLA Section 114, leaving that to be resolved at a later time.