The Superfund program was established on December 11, 1980 to deal with a wide variety of serious threats to the environment and public health. Officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the tools necessary to manage the release or threatened release of 1) a hazardous substance into the environment or 2) a pollutant or contaminant of which may be dangerous to the public.
By placing a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries, the Superfund program has generated billions of dollars in revenue which is earmarked for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled waste sites. The EPA uses the money, which is held in a trust fund, to direct short term removals of hazardous wastes in emergency situations and long term actions at mine sites that are on the National Priorities List (NPL). The EPA can also seek reimbursement for a clean up project from the former owners or operators of a property.
CERCLA law includes very strict liability provisions. In essence, any past owner or operator of a site can be held responsible for the damage to the environment or human health, regardless of whether or not they were actually responsible for the damage. The EPA can compel these Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) to undertake their own reclamation projects through an Administrative Order. When a mine site is on public land and not on the NPL list, federal agencies such as the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management may also use CERCLA authority to fund a reclamation plan.
Superfund - EPA
National Priorities List