Owners and executives of all types of businesses should have at least a basic understanding of CERCLA and other environmental legislation for businesses. If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds your company liable for contamination remediation, or if another company is trying to bring you in for a contribution or indemnification for its own liability, you need to have some level of understanding of this area of law.

The issues involved with corporate environmental cleanup and mitigation are complex and the potential cost for a business are astronomical.

What is CERCLA?

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) is a body of legislation that regulates the cleanup of land that has been contaminated by corporate activity. According to the EPA, CERCLA – also known as Superfund – was created to regulate abandoned hazardous waste sites, hold liable those responsible for releasing hazardous waste at these sites and establish a trust fund for cleanup on the sites where no liable party could be found.

CERCLA today

It has been several years since CERCLA has enjoyed funding adequate to perform its primary functions. This underfunding means that most of the EPA’s efforts have gone to compelling those responsible for hazardous waste emissions to bear the costs of cleanup.

In most cases, a company will either:

  • Receive notice from the EPA that it is responsible for the cleanup costs on a specified site, or
  • Be brought in to share liability from another company

However you are brought in to a CERCLA or other environmental cleanup claim, it is critical for your company to defend against these charges aggressively.

Mount a strong defense against CERCLA claims

If your company is listed as an owner or inhabitant of a property anywhere in that property’s history, your company could be brought in to cover the costs of environmental cleanup and hazardous waste mitigation.

In most of these cases, there are three primary positions to take:

  1. Prove that your company was not responsible for the hazardous waste emissions
  2. Bring in the insurance company to cover some or all the cleanup costs
  3. Bring in another company that owes a duty of indemnification to bear some or all of the cleanup costs

Depending on your case, any one or a combination of these options will be the best approach to take. However, this type of litigation is notoriously complicated, requiring the services of skilled, experienced attorneys.