Who is potentially liable under CERCLA for cost recovery?

Section 107(a) identifies four categories of potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) who may be liable for cleanup costs associated with the release or threatened release of hazardous substances. 

PRPs include:

  1. Owners and operators of facilities at which hazardous substances are located;
  2. Past owners and operators of such facilities at the time that disposal of hazardous substances occurred;
  3. Persons who arranged for disposal or treatment of hazardous substances; and
  4. Certain transporters of hazardous substances. 

The terms “person,” “facility,” “disposal,” “release,” and “environment” are each defined in the statute and have been interpreted by many courts over the years.  

If the plaintiff establishes each of these elements and the defendant is unable to establish the applicability of one of the defenses listed in Section 107(b), the plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment as to liability.  This is true even when there is a genuine issue as to appropriate damages.  Thus, once liability is established, the court must then determine the appropriate remedy and which costs are recoverable.  

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