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Court issues key rulings in offshore, radiation cases

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday the federal government need not study environmental effects on states before granting oil and gas exploration leases on the outer continental shelf. In a 5-to-4 decision, the justices overturned lower-court rulings that rejected a plan by the Interior Department to lease offshore lands for exploration to private companies in the Santa Maria Basin in California.

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In another ruling, the court reinstated a $10.5 million damage award to the family of plutonium plant employee Karen Silkwood, ruling that victims of radiation injuries can sue nuclear power companies.

The court by a 5-to-4 decision upheld a jury award of punitive damages against the Kerr-McGee Corporation to the Silkwood estate. An appeals court had reversed the award, saying damages for radiation injuries were preempted by federal law. But Wednesday's reversal of the appeal court still allowed Kerr-McGee to challenge the amount of damages.

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