TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Polluters in New Jersey won't have to wait for an environmental review and remediation action to be completed before they can file court claims to get others to share in the cleanup, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled in a decision released Monday.

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The case involves a gasoline and refueling station in the Monmouth County community of Millstone Township. It was found to have contaminated soil and groundwater stemming from underground storage tanks on the property.

Magic Petroleum Corp., which bought the lot in the early 1990s, was found to be liable for the cleanup costs by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In 2003, while the DEP review was in progress, Magic filed a court claim under New Jersey's Spill Act to try and have ExxonMobil, which operated a gas and refueling station across the street, and other parties to share in the costs.

Two lower courts had ruled that Magic needed to wait until the DEP-enforced remediation of the site was completed before filing its court claim. Monday's unanimous Supreme Court ruling reversed those prior decisions.

Writing for the court, Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina said "it would be contrary to the stated goals of the Spill Act -- which promotes prompt remediation -- to force a discharger to bear the burden of the entire cleanup cost until such time as the remediation is fully complete.

"The completion of a site's remediation may take many years and could involve substantial expenses. To force one party to shoulder such an amount could prevent remediation from proceeding promptly by generating a disincentive for the party to put forth the financial contribution."


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