BANGOR (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked by the former owner of the HoltraChem factory in Orrington to overturn a lower-court ruling requiring the company to pay for a study of mercury contamination in the Penobscot River.

Mallinckrodt Inc.’s petition argues that a decision by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals “will fundamentally alter Congress’ allocation of policymaking authority, permitting citizens freely to second-guess (federal) policy and enforcement choices.”

Mallinckrodt’s opponents in the case – the Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council – expressed optimism that the Supreme Court will decline to hear the case, according to the Bangor Daily News.

“This is precisely the way the law was intended to work,” Nancy Marks, an attorney for New York-based NRDC, said in a statement Monday.

The two sides have engaged in a legal dispute since 2000 over Mallinckrodt’s liability for mercury found downstream from the now-defunct HoltraChem chlorine and chemical manufacturing facility, which Mallinckrodt owned and operated from 1967 to 1982.

The St. Louis-based company, which is part of Tyco International, has been involved in a cleanup of the plant site but has fought a July 2002 court order that Mallinckrodt pay for a comprehensive study of downstream mercury contamination.

Mallinckrodt already has allocated more than $2.5 million to the ongoing river study, estimated to cost about $4 million.

The appeals court upheld the river study in December 2006.

In their court filings, Mallinckrodt attorneys question the legal standing of the Maine People’s Alliance and NRDC and argues that the lower court’s ruling wrongly broadens federal judicial power.

“Both protection of the environment and the development of industry are public goods,” Mallinckrodt’s appeal states. “The expansive interpretation adopted by the lower courts alters the balance between them, inhibiting production.”

The legal team for the Maine People’s Alliance and NRDC said that Congress has granted federal courts broad powers to protect public health from toxins and industrial activities.

“(The) petitioner tries to paint a dramatic portrait of unconstrained citizens and courts threatening to debilitate the nation’s economy and undermine government agencies,” the attorneys wrote in their response to Mallinckrodt’s appeal.

“In the end, however, this is just a case about a polluter who, for decades, escaped accountability for dangerously contaminating an estuary and who now seeks one final reprieve.”

Information from: Bangor Daily News,

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