Grace Takes Libby Asbestos Arguments to High Court

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – W.R. Grace is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review pretrial rulings in the government’s case charging the company with trying to hide health risks associated with its vermiculite mine in Libby.

The chemical manufacturer filed a petition this week asking the high court to evaluate a decision by a federal appeals court involving the type of asbestos found at the Libby mine.

Grace attorneys argue that when the company operated the mine, minerals that made up the asbestos found there _ winchite and richterite _ weren’t regulated by the federal government. They say the company therefore can’t be prosecuted for them under the Clean Air Act.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula agreed with Grace but was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Grace is now asking the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court’s decision.

According to the company’s petition, the government “is trying to convict defendants of violating the Clean Air Act by releasing substances that the government itself has excluded from the list of substances covered by the act.”

Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said Wednesday he could not comment, “as this is a matter in ongoing litigation.”

The government has 30 days to file a response. Following that, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case. If the high court declines, the 9th Circuit’s rulings will stand, potentially clearing the way for the criminal trial to get under way in Missoula.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear its final cases of the 2008 term next week. If it accepts the Grace petition, the earliest it would hear oral arguments would be October.

A 2005 indictment charged Grace and seven of its former managers with conspiring to hide health risks associated with its Libby vermiculite mine, which closed in 1990. Grace has denied any criminal wrongdoing.