Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, includes federally acknowledged uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. These sites can include accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment (Summary, 2017). There are thousands of sites that exist in the United States and can cause human health risks, as well as environmental problems surrounding the sites for miles. These risks are examined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the goals are to protect human health and the environment, make responsible parties pay for clean-up work, involve communities in the process, and return Superfund sites to productive use (What is Superfund, 2017). This also includes a Trust Fund (‘Superfund’) to finance emergency responses and cleanups.
The history of CERCLA begins with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. This act was in response to illegal dumping of toxic wastes across the country. This was followed by the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) that gave the EPA authority to protect public health and the environment by targeting toxic chemicals that may pose a risk of injury. After highly publicized controversial incidents involving toxic waste including, the chemical fire in Bridgeport, New Jersey, and the Love Canal disaster in New York; the administration at that time held extensive hearings to discuss the dangers caused by toxic waste sites in our country. This leads to congress passing the first adaptation of CERCLA to address the threat of abandoned or uncontrolled waste. (Superfund History, 2017)
In 1980 CERCLA was created for emergency response, information gathering, analysis, and site cleanup. Over the years it has evolved and grown to include important tools in addressing the impact a specific site has on the specific location surrounding it. The first major addition to CERCLA was in 1982 with the Hazard Ranking System (HRS). This system added a numerically based component to each site based on a screening system derived from preliminary investigations on threats to human health and the environment. This led to the creation of the National Priorities List (NPL) implemented in 1983. The HRS places each site onto the NPL by conducting a preliminary assessment and site inspection. Although the score is important to determine, it does not give priority to one site over another in terms of response actions and initial funding.
In 1986 congress passed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) to amend CERCLA to reflect on the first six years of work progressing with the program. This amendment made several important changes and additions. The most important changes included; increasing the size of the trust fund to 8.5 billion dollars, increasing the focus on human health problems, providing new enforcement authorities, encouraging more community engagement, emphasizing the importance of permanent remedies, and required for actions to consider standards found in other State and Federal environmental laws and regulations. SARA also require the HRS to include a degree of risk to human and environmental risks posed by the sites placed on the NPL (SARA, 2017). The HRS was revised again in 1990 to ensure it is accurately assessing the degree of risk to human health.
Superfund Accelerated Cleanup Model (SACM) was issued in 1992 to modernize the traditional Superfund response process by speeding up cleanups and increasing the efficiency of the process. Under this model, site assessment activities would include short-term and long-term remedial actions that would reduce the amount of risk associated with each site. In response to long-term remediation issues, the Brownfields Initiative was introduced in 1993. This plan was introduced to redevelop abandoned, idle, or underused industrial and commercial sites that have a presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contamination. Cleaning up these properties for other uses will increase local tax revenue and improve and protect the local environment (Overview, 2018).
Projects for this initiative can be funded by private, public-private, and public funding which can also include grants and loans. In 1999 the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative was announce to turn cleaned up sites into productive assets like office parks, playing fields, wetlands, and residential areas. This lead to the amended Brownfields Law being passed in 2002 which added funding for cleanups to lead to redevelopment, and took a financial burden off of land owners that were not responsible for the contaminated sites. The American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was signed into law by President Obama to allocate 7.22 billion dollars for projects and programs administered by the EPA. This included 100 million dollars for brownfields cleanup and reuse, 600 million dollars for hazardous waste site cleanup and 200 million dollars for underground petroleum leaks. This program was structured to promote green employment and a healthier environment (Superfund History, 2017). More recently, President Trump proposed a plan called, Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. This includes three amendments to CERCLA that allow for non-liable parties to receive Brownfield funding, liability exemptions for state and local government groups to obtain sites through negotiated purchase, and allow the EPA to express settlement authority into administrative agreements with Bona Fide Prospective Purchasers (Trump, 2018).