What is Superfund?
Superfund, officially The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), was enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980. CERCLA:
- Establishes prohibitions and requirements concerning closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites;
- Provides for liability of persons responsible for releases of hazardous waste at these sites; and
- Establishes a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no responsible party can be identified.
The law authorizes two kinds of response actions:
- Short-term removals, where actions may be taken to address releases or threatened releases requiring prompt response.
- Long-term remedial response actions, that permanently and significantly reduce the dangers associated with releases or threats of releases of hazardous substances that are serious, but not immediately life threatening. These actions can be conducted only at sites listed on EPA's National Priorities List (NPL).
CERCLA created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. Over five years, $1.6 billion was collected and went to a trust fund for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The tax, however, expired in 1995 and has not been reinstated, though the current administration has proposed to renew it. The Superfund itself went bankrupt in 2003 and so-called orphan sites have since relied on taxpayer money from the general fund.
Who cleans up a Superfund site?
The simple answer is that the responsible party pays for the cleanup. If the responsible party no longer exists or cannot be determined, trust fund monies are used to complete the cleanup. However, the actual work involved in a Superfund cleanup can be very complex and require the efforts of many experts in science, engineering, public health, management, law, community relations and numerous other fields.
In the case of both the Clark Fork River and Milltown, the potentially responsible party is Arco, which was purchased by BP Amoco in 2000.
There are a number of groups within EPA and other government agencies that play a leading role in Superfund site cleanups. EPA has specialists spread out across the ten Superfund regions in the country who are responsible for cleanup activities, including On-Scene Coordinators, Community Involvement Coordinators, and Site Assessment specialists. National teams of specialists from the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry take part in Superfund cleanup efforts, too.
Once a hazard has been identified and cleanup options have been studied for effectiveness and feasibility, the EPA determines what it believes to be the appropriate cleanup. The party responsible for the contaminants at the site is, in most cases, also responsible for cleanup costs.
How does the EPA decide on a cleanup option?
The analysis of alternatives under review shall reflect the scope and complexity of site problems and alternatives being evaluated and consider the relative significance of the factors within each criteria. The nine evaluation criteria are as follows:
(A) Overall protection of human health and the environment.
(B) Compliance with applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARs) under federal environmental laws and state environmental or facility siting laws.
(C) Long-term effectiveness and permanence.
(D) Reduction of toxicity, mobility or volume through treatment.
(E) Short-term effectiveness.
(F) Implementability. The ease or difficulty of implementing the alternatives must be assessed.
(G) Cost. The types of costs that shall be assessed include the following:
(1) Capital costs, including both direct and indirect costs;
(2) Annual operation and maintenance costs; and
(3) Net present value of capital and O&M costs.
(H) State acceptance. Assessment of state concerns can't be completed until comments on the Feasibility Study are received. The state concerns include the following: (1) The state's position and key concerns related to the preferred alternative and other alternatives; and (2) State comments on ARARs or the proposed use of waivers.
(I) Community acceptance. This assessment includes determining which components of the alternatives interested persons in the community support, have reservations about, or oppose. This assessment may not be completed until comments on the proposed plan are received. (NOTE: This is separate and distinct from the public's ability to comment on the process or on what alternatives it wants implemented. Therefore, the public may comment at any time to the Governor and EPA.)
Can local citizens impact the EPA's decision?
Absolutely. The Superfund process allows for public input through scheduled meetings at critical points in the process, but anyone can write letters or e-mail the EPA and their state Governor and legislators at any point. Comments sent to the EPA are tallied in a "for or against" fashion. They need not be long. They need only give your opinion on the issue.
For more information on the Superfund program, visit these EPA links:
> Cleanup Process
> Superfund FAQ
> More on CERCLA
> View entire NPL