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CERCLA@35: Looking Back, Looking Forward


December 10, 2015


Washington, DC (and via webinar)

An ELI Public Seminar cosponsored by US EPA

December 11, 2015 marks 35 years since enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). National Geographic’s “Wasteland” article (December 2014) has stated that “these [Superfund] sites are no longer the focus of national attention… in part due to a rarely cited phenomenon: governmental competence.” Still, 35 years later, the statute continues to provide a dynamic area of law, particularly with respect to CERCLA’s joint and several liability scheme and how to address clean up and the distribution of costs at mega sites. In an expert discussion, panelists will provide their perspective on these and other issues associated with the Superfund cleanup and enforcement program, providing reflection on the statute’s first 35 years, and looking at what the future may hold for this powerful environmental program.

Before the modern environmental movement, a patchwork of state and local regulations governed the disposal of industrial and municipal waste in the United States.  The increased intensity of development and industrialization in the post-war era, the subsequent abandonment or transfer of contaminated sites, and the national attention on communities like Love Canal, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey convinced Congress that the federal government needed to address the issue. With the enactment of Superfund in December 1980, EPA was tasked with responding to releases and threats of releases from contaminated sites, as well as their remediation. Superfund, the first statute of its kind in the world, was born.

In the first program of EPA and ELI’s  CERCLA@35 Series, panelists discussed the origins of Superfund, including the tactics used before its enactment to try and address some of the problems of contaminated sites. The discussion then highlighted some of the successes and shortcoming of the program in its early years, and explained the significance of the SARA amendments of 1986, the Administrative Reforms of the 1990s, and the 2002 Brownfield Amendments. Finally, panelists addressed the legacy of Superfund in a larger context, examining where contaminated site regulation and cleanup may go from here, and extrapolating lessons other jurisdictions can learn from the Superfund experience of the United States.

Scott Fulton,
President, Environmental Law Institute (moderator)
Susan Bodine, Chief Counsel, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Joel Gross, Partner, Arnold & Porter
Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator (OSWER), US EPA
Larry Starfield, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator (OECA), US EPA

Related info:
US EPA Superfund Program
Superfund Deskbook, 2d ed. (ELI, 2014)
ELI Research Reports on Superfund (downloadable)