Last time, we looked briefly at the general outline of the Superfund cleanup process, beginning with the discovery of a potentially contaminated site all the way through completion of cleanup efforts and evaluation of the need for long-term protection of a site. One of the points we’d like to touch on briefly is liability. How does the Environmental Protection Agency go about holding contaminating parties liable?
Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka “Superfund”) liability is based on whole or partial responsibility for leaving hazardous substances at a site. More than one party can be held liable for contamination, though often the number a potentially liable parties is one or two. There are several qualities of Superfund liability that impact which parties can be held liable.
First to of all, liability is retroactive to before the law’s enactment in 1980, so it isn’t only parties that are currently polluting who can be forced to pay for environmental cleanup, but all parties that contributed to the pollution. Second of all, liability is joint and several, meaning that while all parties are responsible for the entire cost of the cleanup. Thirdly, liability is strict, meaning that potentially responsible parties can’t get off the hook simply because they took reasonable care to avoid contamination. From the perspective of the EPA, if a company contributed to contamination, they can be held liable, regardless of the circumstances under which the contamination occurred.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at the issue of Superfund liability.