What's on the Horizon with CERCLA?

Environmental Training Resource
July 20, 2012 — 1,096 views  
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Environmental professionals and attorneys might encounter the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) when dealing with the chemical and petroleum industries. This law is commonly referred to as the Superfund, as it gives the federal government the authority to broadly respond to direct releases of hazardous substances that could negatively affect public health or the environment.

History of CERCLA

Congress enacted CERCLA on December 11, 1980, as a tax against the aforementioned industries. During its first five years, federal authorities collected $1.6 billion due to violations. These funds were put into a trust that was used to clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

How does CERCLA work?

With CERCLA, national officials can issue short- and long-term responses.

For example, the federal government might require a company to conduct an immediate removal to address threatening releases. Such issues could pose instant and longstanding dangers to U.S. citizens and the environment, and a quick response reduces risks.

Meanwhile, long-term remedial response actions are frequently used to permanently eliminate hazards. While these threats might fail to pose instant dangers, they could become serious if companies fail to address them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes criteria to determine where government officials can enforce this type of action. The agency has created a National Priorities List (NPL) describing contaminants, pollutants and substances that must be present for it to complete a thorough cleanup of a site.

What are the parameters of CERCLA?

CERCLA explains the liability for parties responsible for the release of hazardous waste at sites included on the NPL. Additionally, the act defines requirements and regulations relating to abandoned and closed hazardous waste sites, and it created the trust fund to pay for cleanup when no responsible party has been identified.

What does the future hold for CERCLA?

Many large companies have shown a willingness to follow the regulation's provisions since its creation. These businesses have taken steps to alter their operating processes to avoid the need for future action, which has benefited the general public and the environment.

Legislators have sought ways to limit the liability that small businesses face under CERCLA. While some of these companies have been repeat violators of the act, they might lack the resources to successfully complete short- and long-term cleanups.

Environmental professionals and lawyers should take the time to explain the ramifications of CERCLA violations, as issues with the act could lead to steep fines and penalties that could devastate a small business. 

Environmental Training Resource