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An Overview of CERCLA Enforcement and Penalties

The Law Office of C. William Smalling, P.C. May 16, 2019

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) provides federal funds to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites, accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. Below is an overview of enforcement and penalties under CERCLA. 

Enforcement under CERCLA   

CERCLA provides the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the authority to ensure the cleanup of the above pollutants. For example:

  • EPA can clean hazardous sites and later recover cleanup costs from responsible parties.

  • EPA can gather information, access a site, and seek penalties for non-compliance with agreements and orders.

  • EPA can order a potentially responsible party (PRP) to clean a site when a substantial or imminent endangerment may exist, and it may seek penalties for non-compliance with such an order.

  • EPA and the Department of Justice can enter into settlement agreements with a PRP to clean a site or pay for cleanup performed by EPA.

Penalties under CERCLA  

  1. Statutory penalties - There are several statutory penalties that may apply if a PRP fails to meet the requirements of a settlement agreement. The specific penalties depend on the type of settlement and the severity, nature, and duration of non-compliance. EPA is permitted to seek penalties of between $32,500 and $37,500 for each day of non-compliance.

  2. Stipulated penalties – A settlement agreement may include stipulated penalties. When certain penalties are stipulated, the parties agree what the penalties will be for certain types of non-compliance. The primary goal of stipulated penalties is to provide incentive for compliance with the settlement agreement.

  3. Treble Damages - EPA can collect up to three times its costs from PRPs who fail to comply with an administrative order. EPA considers the following elements in determining the amount of a penalty:

    1. The penalty must be large enough to deter non-compliance.

    2. The penalty should be equitable and fair.

    3. The penalty should quickly resolve the applicable environmental problems.

Texas Environmental Law Attorneys 

If you or your company have been cited for non-compliance or are facing legal action based on non-compliance, then you need an experienced Texas environmental law attorney like C. William Smalling on your side. Smalling, with an extensive background in engineering, understands both the technical and legal aspects of situations affecting corporations in the oil, gas, and energy industries. Whether negotiating with the government or litigating government enforcement actions and private tort suits, the experience and knowledge of C. William Smalling provides corporate clients with a significant edge in all oil, gas, and energy matters. We take pride in providing our business clients with the legal tools to remain confident while navigating the complicated world of environmental regulations. If your company is facing legal action or simply needs guidance in the area of environmental law, please contact the Law Office of C. William Smalling for a consultation.