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In 1980, Congress enacted The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund.. The Act set forth a new liability scheme that was commonly referred to as "polluter pays" that made the owner or operator of the site responsible for paying for the cleanup (#Steinemann and Walsh, 2006). If the responsible party could not be identified or was unable to pay, CERCLA established a "Superfund," (which became the commonly referred to name of the Act) which would provide the funds to clean up abandoned hazardous sites. The Superfund was payed into by special taxes initially on chemical feedstacks and later after it was reauthorized in 1986, on additional petroleum and corporate environmental taxes (#Schmidt, 2003). Under CERCLA*the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would maintain a National Priorities List (NPL) containing "the list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants...intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation" (#Steinemann and Walsh, 2006).

CERCLA also created the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the 1986 accompaniment to CERCLA, Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), mandated that the ATSDR perform health assessments for most contaminated sites. SARA also, as the title presumes, reauthorized the Superfund tax on the chemical and added taxes on petroleum and a corporate environmental tax which Congress again reauthorized it in 1990-1994 (#Schmidt, 2003). The taxing authority of CERCLA/SARA expired in 1995 and, despite attempts by the Clinton administration that had little support, it has not been reauthorized and the Bush administration dropped the reauthorization request from its budget (#Schmidt, 2003). The fund has steadily declined to a point where the debits outweigh the credits in cleaning up environmental spills: there is more sites that need work than money available to clean them up. The shortfall that resulted from the cessation of the taxes in 1995 has been made up primarily by taxpayer dollars taken from the general revenue (#Schmidt, 2003). However, with the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections, many expect Superfund will receive renewed attention ad possibly more funding (#Clayton, 2006).

Superfund has been lambasted by many of its opponents for taking too much time, costing too much money, and being politically motivated. With all of its problems though, Superfund has cleaned up 260 of the nation's heavily polluted sites and more than 580 sites with lesser pollution worries (#Schmidt, 2003).


CERLCA established numerous provisions:

  • Set forth a new liability scheme shifting burden of responsibility to polluters making the owner or operator of the contaminated site financially responsible for the cleanup (#Steinemann and Walsh, 2006).
  • Establish a Superfund funded from taxes on certain industries that was used to cleanup abandoned hazardous waste sites.


Funding originally came from a tax on chemical feedstocks and later from additional taxes on petroleum and a corporate environmental tax that made up the lion's share of the fund. The taxes were reauthorized in 1986 and again in 1990 but were unable to be included in 1994 and so they expired. These taxes generated around $1.5 billion a year (#Clayton, 2006). 1993-2005, funding for the Superfund fell 32% from $1.8 - $1.2 in inflation adjusted dollars and the number of sites being cleaned up fell by more than half - from 88-40 - in the same time period (#Clayton, 2006). The declining number of site cleanups, the EPA contends is because the sites they are working on now are larger therefore they require more time and money (#Schmidt, 2006).


According to the Christian Science Monitor, "1 in 4 Americans lives within four miles of a designated toxic-waste site, the federal program to clean up the sites has slowed" (#Clayton, 2006).

See the current National Priorities List

Also, the Scorecard Site is a very good one as well.


The budgetary concerns of the Superfund are the most pressing at this point. The 2003 Superfund allocations of $1.27 billion is around $355 million less than the projected needs to complete the projects scheduled (#Schmidt, 2003). Additionally, the number of projects have declined sharply - by around 50% - under the Bush Administration. They contend that while the number of projects has fallen, the magnitude of those projects has increased greatly. Essentially, all the easy projects were completed first and the more difficult ones, which require more time and money, are being addressed only now (#Schmidt, 2006).

"Megasites" that are being addressed currently also represent numerous problems in scope and in identifying responsible parties. Many are "sediment sites" that include dredging canals and rivers in an attempt to remove pollutants. Also, many of these sites have "historical pollutants" such as DDT or PCBs which have been contributed by numerous entities and getting any of them to be held liable will be extremely difficult (#Schmidt, 2003).

Notable Cases

Since Superfund's inception, it has cleaned and removed 260 sites from the EPA's National Priorities List and an additional 580 sites have been deemed "construction complete" by the Environmental Protection Agency. The flagship site for the Superfund was Love Canal Disaster where 21 tons of toxic chemicals dumped by Hooker Chemical were literally oozing from all parts of the 16 acre site.

Current Events

April 20, 2007
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) has introduced the Superfund Equity and Megasite Remediation Act of 2007 that would reinstate the "polluter pays" tax-system and make it permanent and require the tax to increase by 50% each year for the first five years. This would shift the burden of proof away from the government and burden of payment back to those that pollute away from the taxpayers. From the States News Service on April 20, 2007.

November 20, 2006
Sen. Hilary Clinton has taken over chairmanship of the Superfund and Environmental Health Subcommitee of the Senate which immediatly raises the profile of the program in the front of an expected debate in the near future. See the Superfund Report 20 article "CLINTON CHAIRMANSHIP MAY BOOST PROFILE OF SUPERFUND, TOXICS."

External Links


Mark Clayton, "Democrats Eye Revamp of Toxic-Cleanup Superfund", Christian Science Moniter, December 28, 2006, pg. 3.

Kafanov, Lucy. "Congress unlikely to make headway on new tax to fund toxic cleanup." Environment and Energy Daily. March 28, 2006.

Schmidt, Charles W. "Not so Superfund: Growing Needs vs. Declining Dollars." Environmental Health Perspectives (Vol 111, no 3).

Seelye, Katharine Q. "Bush Proposing to Shift Burden of Toxic Clean-up to Taxpayers." The New York Times February 24, 2002. Retreived on 12-11-06 from here.

Anne C. Steinemann and Nancy J. Walsh, "Environmental Laws and Exposure Analysis", _________, .

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