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3.6. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), as amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), governs EPA’s responses to releases of hazardous substances into the environment, along with EPA’s cleanup of inactive hazardous waste disposal sites. EPA must designate which substances are to be considered hazardous and must set the minimum quantities for reporting releases. These decisions are to be based upon whether such releases “may present substantial danger to the public health or welfare or the environment.” In establishing reportable quantities, therefore, EPA may consider most benefits, but the act is silent with regard to costs or economic impact analysis.

Under CERCLA. EPA is also responsible for revising the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) for the removal of oil and hazardous substances, originally published under the Clean Water Act. This plan is to include “means of ensuring that remedial action measures are cost-effective over the period of potential exposure to the hazardous substances or contaminated materials.” EPA has interpreted this language to mean that it should not consider costs when determining the level of control necessary to protect public health, but can consider cost-effectiveness when choosing among alternatives that would meet the required level of control.

In 1986, Congress enacted amendments to CERCLA with the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). The Emergency Planning & Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) (U.S.C. 11011 et seq (1986), also known as Title III of SARA, requires reporting of releases of substances that reasonably may be anticipated to cause significant adverse health effects. Threshold quantities and the initial list of reportable substances are stated in EPCRA; however, the Administrator of EPA may revise the list of reportable substances and the facilities that must report taking into account the reporting burden placed on facilities.

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