Enforcement

Superfund Compliance and Penalties

Complying with Superfund Cleanup Agreements and Orders

Generally, EPA only enters into agreements with potentially responsible parties (PRPs) that it believes will fulfill the terms of the agreement.

EPA oversees the settlement agreements and orders issued under its various Superfund enforcement authorities to ensure that PRPs are complying with the terms of the agreements or orders. For example, if a party agrees to do certain cleanup activities, EPA will monitor that party's performance to be sure the cleanup activities are done timely and appropriately.

For remedies that rely in whole or in part on institutional controls, EPA strives to ensure that the PRPs remain responsible for the implementation of the institutional controls. EPA’s  policy titled "Enforcement First" to Ensure Effective Institutional Controls at Superfund Sites extends to any actions needed to ensure the implementation and effectiveness of institutional controls.

If a party is not complying with its obligations, EPA will decide what action to take to bring the party into compliance. Options typically range from issuing a warning letter to asking the Department of Justice to file a civil complaint asking for injunctive relief (have the court order the party to meet its obligations) and/or seeking penalties for non-compliance.

Additional information is available from the Compliance with Superfund Obligations category of the Superfund cleanup policy and guidance database.

Penalties

Superfund penalties include:

Statutory Penalties There are a variety of Superfund statutory penalty provisions that may apply if a PRP does not meet the requirements of an agreement. The penalties depend upon the type of agreement and on the nature, severity, and duration of the non-compliance. The law authorizes EPA to seek statutory penalties of up to $32,500 for each day of non-compliance prior to January 12, 2009, and $37,500 for each day thereafter.
Stipulated Penalties Agreements may include stipulated penalties, where the parties agree within the settlement agreement what the penalty will be for a certain type of non-compliance. The primary goal of these provisions is to provide an incentive for the party to comply with the agreement. EPA's Guidance on the Use of Stipulated Penalties in EPA Settlement Agreements (9/21/87) provides further guidance.
Treble Damages EPA can recover up to three times its costs from potentially responsible parties who did not comply with a unilateral administrative order.

Agency case teams to consider the following criteria in determining an appropriate penalty amount:

  • The penalty should be large enough to serve as a deterrent;
  • It should treat the violator fairly and equitably; and
  • It should resolve swiftly the environmental problems posed by noncompliance.

EPA's Interim Policy on Settlement of CERCLA Section 106(b)(1) Penalty Claims and Section 107(c)(3) Punitive Damages Claims for Noncompliance with Administrative Orders (9/30/97), describes the factors that it will consider when deciding how to settle a penalty claim for non-compliance with an order directing work.

EPA's Enforcement Response Policy for Sections 304, 311 and 312 of EPCRA and Section 103 of CERCLA (9/30/99), describes penalty responses for failures to report a release above a specified quantity of hazardous substances.

EPA uses computer models to help analyze financial issues, including penalty calculations. These Enforcement Economic Models are available to local, state, and federal employees for their use in settlement negotiations.

Learn more: Superfund enforcement authority

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