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CERCLA Liability For Mining and Milling Operations

Marilyn G. Alkire, Proceedings of 30th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1984)

After extensive hearings, numerous compromises, and last minute amendments, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted by the 96th Congress on December 3, 1980.1 The major force impelling the adoption of CERCLA was the ineffectiveness of other federal environmental statutes in dealing with problems caused by disposal of hazardous substances at inactive or abandoned sites. CERCLA authorizes federal and state governments, as well as private persons, to respond to the release or threatened release of hazardous substances at active and inactive sites. The Act also provides a method of funding response actions and imposes ultimate liability on persons responsible for creating the problems caused by the disposal and release of hazardous substances.

At the time of the enactment of CERCLA, the mining and milling industry believed it was temporarily exempted from the statute in the same fashion it had been temporarily exempted from subtitle C of the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).2 When, however, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the first proposed National Priorities List, identifying sites for response actions under CERCLA, several mining and milling sites were included.3 In addition, EPA has sought to enforce the provisions of CERCLA