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Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA/Superfund)

Authorizing Statutes

42. U.S.C. 9601 et seq.

This is the principal statute governing the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and responses to spills of those substances. The statute establishes liability for site cleanup, prescribes a procedure for identifying and ranking contaminated sites, provides funding for site cleanups, reduces uncontrolled releases of hazardous substances, establishes cleanup procedures that provide protection for humans and the environment, and restores injured natural resources through provisions administered by the natural resource trustees. In conjunction with OPA, it mandates a "National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP)" to provide the organizational structure and procedures for preparing for and responding to discharges of oil and releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants. The statute was amended by the Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act (SARA) in 1986, which adds extensive public "right-to-know" and emergency planning requirements, establishes a fund for leaking underground storage tanks, and imposes worker safety requirements for hazardous materials.

Specific Natural Resource Trustee Authorities:

Section 104:

  • requires the prompt notification of trustees of potential damages to natural resources resulting from releases
  • requires coordination of assessments, investigations, and planning efforts with Federal and state trustees

Section 106:

  • authorizes response actions when there is an "imminent and substantial endangerment" to trust resources from actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances

Section 107:

  • establishes liability for injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources
  • authorizes natural resource trustees to recover compensatory damages for injury to natural resources as well as reasonable costs of assessing injury
  • mandates that all sums recovered as damages be used only to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of such natural resources

Section 122:

  • requires that natural resource trustees be notified and encouraged to participate in negotiations related to releases that damage trust resources
  • requires that convenants not to sue be granted only if appropriate Federal natural resource trustee(s) have agreed in writing
  • allows trustee(s) to agree to a convenant not to sue if the potentially responsible party undertakes actions necessary to protect and restore natural resources damaged by the release of hazardous substances