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New ruling reapportions liability for Fox River cleanup (UPDATE)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — A new federal court ruling may force paper companies to be responsible for a larger share of the estimated $1 billion Fox River cleanup effort.

The Green Bay Press Gazette reports that Friday’s ruling reapportions river cleanup responsibility based on estimates of the amount of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, released into the river by each of the potentially responsible paper companies. Up until now, the work was almost entirely funded by NCR and Appvion.

A judge ruled that NCR may be no more than 28 percent liable for the cleanup, at least for the section of the river between De Pere and Green Bay. This means the remaining work beyond NCR’s share will likely fall to Georgia-Pacific and Glatfelter. NCR and Appvion are also free to sue potentially responsible companies to recoup some of the expenses they’ve already paid.

In the 1950s and 1960s, NCR sold scrap to companies that used it to produce recycled paper. Production involving that paper was a major source of the PCBs in the river. Appvion, which bought NCR plants after PCBs were banned in 1976, has since been found not responsible for the river cleanup.

The same judge originally ruled that NCR should be liable for the entire cleanup. But an appeals court overturned the ruling, disagreeing with the judge’s finding that there was no practical way to divide shares of the PCB discharge responsibility. Under the terms of the appeals court ruling, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach said Friday that he had to accept NCR’s argument that it was no more than 28 percent liable for the cleanup costs.

“NCR has taken a leadership position in cleaning up the Fox River and believes that it has already done more than its fair share of the work,” the company said in a statement. “We have consistently advocated that a reasonable remediation project shared in by all responsible parties should be the goal of the regulatory authorities.”

A Georgia-Pacific spokesman said the company is still evaluating what the consequences of the decision might be. The U.S. Department of Justice, representing the government in the action against the paper companies, declined to comment.

Griesbach directed NCR to submit a proposed judgment to the court within the next week. According to the court, the government will have another seven days to respond.

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