Attorneys who practice environmental law must contend with a high degree of complexity while navigating several intricate, overlapping but sometimes conflicting, local and federal regulations. One of the most wide-reaching federal statutes, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or “CERCLA,” governs the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Also known as “Superfund,” CERCLA is a major federal law. Another important federal law is the Resource, Conservation and Recovery Act, or “RCRA.” This law regulates the cradle-to-grave generation, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste.
At the state level, California has its own version of CERCLA, which is called the Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA). RCRA also has a State of California counterpart called the California Hazardous Waste Control Act, or the “HWCA.” These laws all serve similar purposes but have important differences that determine how they apply to environmental litigation.
How Do CERCLA and HSAA Work?
CERCLA is a federal law that imposes strict liability on past and present owners and operators of hazardous waste sites. It also covers those who transported or arranged for the disposal of hazardous substances at these sites. For the most part, CERCLA and the HSAA have similar requirements.
How Do RCRA and HWCA Work?
RCRA has a set of regulations that control the generation, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste from the cradle to the grave. It creates a comprehensive system for tracking and monitoring these wastes. California’s also covers those who transported and arranged for the disposal of hazardous substances at these sites. While RCRA and the HWCA track each other in many important respects, many of the regulations issued under the HWCA are substantially more stringent. This is especially true in the classification of what constitutes hazardous wastes.
How Can Property Owners Fight Back?
Property owners involved in HSAA or CERCLA litigation need experienced legal counsel with an extensive history in defending clients against allegations of environmental contamination. Even if a release of a hazardous substance occurred at the site while the land was under your ownership, there could be other potentially responsible parties and documentation that limits your liability.