The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, or Superfund, is designed to grant authority to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states and Native American tribes to manage and clean up the nation’s most dangerous waste sites. Superfund gives the EPA the responsibility to address acute local and national environmental emergencies that threaten public health and the environment. The EPA identifies the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) that created hazardous sites and requires them to fund and/or manage the cleanups.
CERCLA came into existence after a State of Emergency was declared at Love Canal, New York in 1978. The act includes a retroactive liability provision that allows the EPA to hold past parties that created dangerous waste sites accountable for clean-up. Around 70 percent of Superfund clean ups have been paid by responsible parties.
For sites that have no clearly identifiable responsible party or were polluted by now-bankrupt parties, the EPA paid for clean-up through funds gathered by a polluters-pay fee placed on petroleum and chemical industries, which was enacted as an incentive to move to less hazardous substances. The tax has not been collected since 1995, however, and by 2004 there was no longer any money in the Superfund, forcing the EPA to fund Superfund with taxpayer money.
Currently, CHEJ is working towards making Superfund super again by helping grassroots organizations and by advocating the restoration of polluters pay fees to refinance the CERCLA trust fund. In 2015, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation that would revive the tax component of the federal Superfund program and once again force industries responsible for contaminating soil, air and water to pay for the cleanup of these sites. This proposed law would also make funds available directly to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on an ongoing basis instead of being subject to annual appropriations.