CERCLA and Forest Service CERCLA Authority

"CERCLA” is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (40 CFR part 300 et seq.).

CERCLA was enacted to enable the federal government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several other federal agencies, to respond to or “clean up” sites that have releases or spills of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants to the environment. Some of the early, famous sites addressed under CERCLA include “Love Canal” near Niagara Falls, New York; “Times Beach” in Missouri; and “The Valley of the Drums” in Nevada. Hazardous substances listed in CERCLA and other laws include a wide range of chemicals and compounds, including some metals which may occur in water draining from various types of mines.

CERCLA established a tax on the chemical industry, called “the Superfund,” for EPA use at the most seriously impacted sites. As a result, CERCLA is often called “the Superfund Law.”

The Forest Service has CERCLA authority similar to the EPA, although the Forest Service does not have access to “the Superfund.”

CERCLA specifies processes for assessing and cleaning up contaminated sites, and allows the EPA and/or the Forest Service to “go after” polluters at abandoned, contaminated sites and make them pay for cleanup costs.

CERCLA does not require National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis (such as an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement) for response actions, or allow appeals of response decisions as does NEPA. It does specify detailed procedures that are essentially equivalent to NEPA analysis.

Forest Service Policy on hazardous material site cleanups

Forest Service Policy is to use Forest Service CERCLA authority and processes to respond at sites under Forest Service jurisdiction or control where hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants threaten human health or the environment.

Many abandoned mine sites are CERCLA sites, since heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and others that may occur in surface water at mine sites are listed as hazardous substances. Further, the Forest Service may invoke CERCLA at mining sites where “pollutants or contaminants” such as sediment, or metals such as iron or aluminum which are not listed hazardous substances, are impacting the environment.