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Liability for cleanup of Superfund sites, P.2

In previous posts, we’ve been discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program, and how liability is assigned to parties for the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous waste. As we noted, there are various parties that may be potentially responsible for funding a site cleanup effort. Not all parties will face the same liability, though.

Parties which are faced with potential liability for Superfund cleanup efforts should not necessarily assume that they will automatically be on the hook for the entire cost of the cleanup. Some potentially responsible parties have unique circumstances impacting their liability for Superfund cleanup costs. For example, some potentially responsible parties are simply unable to pay for the cleanup, in which case the EPA tries to make special payment arrangements or to reduce the settlement amount. 

Another such circumstance is when a party’s contribution to the site’s contamination is relatively small, as in less than 1 percent. In such cases, the Environmental Protection Agency generally seeks to reach an early settlement with a focus on identifying and reducing major waste contributors. In other cases, a potentially responsible party may have contributed such a small amount to the contamination that the EPA doesn’t even attempt to hold them liable for funding cleanup efforts. For these parties, demonstrating the negligibility of the contamination in the negotiation process is important.

Generators and transporters of municipal solid waste are usually not held responsible for cleanup efforts, though municipalities which are past owners and/or operators of disposal sites may be held liable within a certain range of the cost. On the residential side, parties contributing to contamination are generally not held liable for cleanup. The same is true of owners of property located above contaminated aquifers.

In our next post, we’ll speak a bit about negotiation Superfund Settlements and the benefits of working with an experienced attorney.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, “Superfund Liability,” Accessed Feb. 9, 2015. 

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