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Exclusion under CERCLA for hazardous waste cleanup

On Behalf of | Feb 13, 2023 | Environmental Law

As an individual concerned about the environment, you may have heard of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which is also known as the Superfund law. This law governs the cleanup of hazardous waste sites in the United States, including California. Under CERCLA, there is a provision known as the petroleum hydrocarbon exclusion, which affects the legal responsibilities of parties involved in hazardous waste cleanup.

What the CERCLA exclusion covers

The petroleum hydrocarbon exclusion under CERCLA excludes specific petroleum-related releases from the definition of hazardous substances. This means that petroleum releases, such as oil spills, are not subject to the same cleanup standards and legal liabilities as other dangerous substances. The exclusion is limited to releases from underground storage tanks, and it does not cover releases from pipelines, tank trucks or other sources.

An area of contention

The petroleum hydrocarbon exclusion has been a point of contention in environmental law, with some arguing that it provides a loophole for petroleum companies to avoid liability for hazardous waste cleanup. On the other hand, proponents of the exclusion say that it helps to prevent duplicate regulations and allows for a more targeted and efficient cleanup process.

Fines and additional liabilities

Despite the exclusion, there are still legal avenues for holding petroleum companies responsible for environmental damage caused by their operations. For example, oil spills into navigable waters are illegal under the Clean Water Act. They can result in substantial fines and penalties. Additionally, state environmental laws, such as those in California, may impose additional requirements and liabilities on companies that cause environmental harm.

Growing environmental concerns

While the petroleum hydrocarbon exclusion under CERCLA limits the legal liabilities of petroleum companies in some cases, it does not provide a complete shield from environmental liabilities. As environmental concerns continue to grow, more laws and regulations governing hazardous waste cleanup and stronger environmental protections may appear.