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Which parties are responsible under CERCLA?

In this second post about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, we take a closer look at environmental liability under CERCLA.

Liability under CERCLA attaches when these elements are met: there is hazardous waste at a location; there is actual or potential danger of releasing the hazardous substances into the environment; and cleanup costs will or have been incurred.

There are several intimidating aspects about CERCLA liability. First, liability is strict. That means that a finding of negligence is unnecessary. Said another way, it is no defense for an entity to say that its behavior was in accordance with industry standards.

Liability under CERCLA is also joint and several, which means that any potentially responsible party (PRP) could be held accountable for the entire cost of cleaning up a contaminated site, even if other entities were also responsible. Finally, liability is also retroactive, so a party could be found responsible for contamination events that occurred before CERCLA’s enactment in 1980.

Under CERCLA, there are four classes of PRPs. In addition to present owners and operators, a past owner could be liable if the operations coincided with the period of hazardous waste disposal. In addition, any entity that created the hazardous substances that ended up at the site could be found responsible, as might any transporters.

Our California environmental law firm has provided advice to many clients about CERCLA. Although the law is far-reaching, there are some limits. Specifically, the EPA does recognize that a PRP may have unique circumstances that call for different treatment, such as contributing less than one percent of waste to the site.

Source: “Superfund Liability,” copyright 2017, United States Environmental Protection Agency

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