Why was the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) enacted?

In 1980, Congress enacted CERCLA in response to well-publicized toxic waste problems, most notably the infamous Love Canal Disaster in Niagra Falls, New York.  Yet, because the final version was enacted as a last-minute compromise between three competing bills, it has acquired a well-deserved notoriety for vaguely-drafted provisions and an indefinite, if not contradictory, legislative history. 

CERCLA substantially changed the legal machinery used to enforce environmental cleanup efforts and was enacted to fill gaps left in RCRA which focuses on limiting waste production and ensuring that when waste is produced, it is treated and disposed of properly. 

CERCLA facilitates the prompt cleanup of hazardous substances that have already been released into the environment and ensures that those responsible for the hazardous substances bear the cost of their actions.

RCRA left inactive sites largely unmonitored by the EPA unless they posed an imminent hazard.   CERCLA addressed this problem by establishing a means of controlling and financing both governmental and private responses to hazardous releases at abandoned and inactive waste disposal sites.  

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