Your Legal Responsibilities at Superfund Sites
What federal and Iowa law says about environmental cleanup liabilities
on April 16, 2021
Updated on January 24, 2023
In December of 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) was passed into law by Congress. The statute established the federal Superfund program, a cleanup and protection effort of hazardous waste sites are overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies. You may be wondering: Who pays for the cleanup of a Superfund site? Here, you will find an overview of legal responsibilities at a Superfund site in Iowa.
What Is a Superfund Site?
As defined by the EPA, a Superfund site is a place that has been officially classified as a polluted location or contaminated site. There are many hundreds of these sites across the country. They exist because of the dumping of hazardous waste, the mismanagement of toxic substances or materials, and the poor environmental practices at manufacturing centers, mines, and landfills.
Officially regulated by CERCLA, these sites are often referred to simply as Superfund sites. The term is also used to describe the trust set up by Congress to provide some funding for cleanup. Notably, though federal law largely controls this area, CERCLA delegates some key authority/responsibility to the individual states.
An Overview of Superfund Sites in Iowa
As of 2021, the federal government lists more than a dozen past, current, and proposed Superfund sites in Iowa risking public health and groundwater contamination. Some of these sites have already been cleaned up. Other sites are still actively given remedial action. There are also sites that have been proposed as additions to the National Priorities List (NPL), a hazard ranking system.
Covering the Costs: The Two Main Sources of Funding
The cleanup of a Superfund site for the release of hazardous substances can be extraordinarily expensive for potentially responsible parties. Depending on the specific nature of the environmental degradation, the total cost can greatly outweigh the resources of any business or organization involved in the project. Under CERCLA, there are two main sources for the funding of Superfund site cleanup:
- The Culprit: The EPA and state regulatory agencies (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) have the legal authority to the culprit(s) responsible for paying for Superfund cleanup. Once the EPA assigns liability to a company, it can pursue partial or total reimbursement for cleanup costs. Responsible companies may set up a payment plan with the EPA.
- Environmental Tax: As noted previously, the term Superfund also refers to a financial trust set up by Congress. That trust is funded through a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries. When deemed appropriate, money will be withdrawn from the fund to finance cleanup efforts.
A company facing potential liability for remediation or response action of a Superfund site and dealing with hazardous substances should seek legal counsel, as the cost of cleanup can be significant. If you have any specific questions or concerns about your financial obligations or legal responsibilities, contact an experienced Iowa environmental law attorney for immediate assistance.