Court Issues Order to Hold Biggest Polluters Accountable for Cleanup Costs

It was good news all around today for the millions of families that live near polluted industrial sites, and the American taxpayers who have footed the cleanup bill all too often. Today, the Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop letting polluters off the hook for the contamination they cause.  

For 30 years, the EPA has failed to issue rules under CERCLA, the “Superfund” law, to hold industries accountable, up front, for cleanup costs. As a result, company after company has found a way to pass the cost of environmental disasters on to taxpayers.

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a decision that will help to fix that.

In response to litigation filed by Earth Justice on behalf of Earthworks and our coalition partners, the court ordered the EPA to complete new regulations that require the polluting companies to post financial assurance up front for the cost of cleaning up the hazardous materials they generate – a critical step in protecting public health and clean water.

The court acknowledged the problem: “It is a common practice for operators [of sites that produce hazardous substances] to avoid paying environmental liabilities by declaring bankruptcy or otherwise sheltering assets,” and that financial assurance rules would prevent these polluters from skipping town on their toxic messes.

The nation’s biggest polluters weighed in against the new regulations – the National Mining Association, American Petroleum Institute, and American Chemical Council. Fortunately, public health and corporate accountability prevailed. 

As the nation’s leading source of toxic pollution (nearly 2 billion pounds per year), the mining industry is justifiably first in line for the new regulations. The court has ordered the EPA to complete the draft regulations by December 1, 2016, and finalize the regulations by Dec. 1, 2017.

The EPA must also make a determination for rules for three other industries, including coal ash ponds, chemical manufacturing facilities and petroleum and oil refineries by Dec. 1, 2016. 

Throughout the next two years, Earthworks will be deeply involved in the rule-making process to push for the strongest regulations possible. 

But for today, we celebrate a good win.