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Court rules CERCLA sections complement each other


Two provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 allow private parties to recover expenses associated with cleaning up contaminated sites.

Section 107 defines four categories of potentially responsible parties and makes them liable for, among other things: all costs of removal or remedial action incurred by the U.S. government, a state or an Indian tribe not inconsistent with the national contingency plan, which specifics procedures for preparing and responding to contamination incidents; and any other necessary costs of response incurred by any other person consistent with the national contingency plan.

Section 113 (f), which was added in 1986 under the Superfund Amendments & Reauthorization Act, allows PRPs to bring a contribution action against another PRP to recover and apportion each party's fair share of the site's costs.

The Supreme Court in 2004 ruled in Cooper Industries Inc. vs. Aviall Services Inc. that a PRP could not bring a contribution action under Section 113 (f) unless the PRP bringing the action was already the subject of a government enforcement action.

Although the government argued in United States vs. Atlantic Research that permitting PRPs to recover cleanup costs under Section 107 would create "friction" between Section 107 and Section 113, the Supreme Court said the two sections "complement each other" because they address parties in different procedural circumstances.

Section 113, the court said, authorizes a contribution action to PRPs with common liability stemming from an action instituted under Section 106 or Section 107, while Section 107 permits cost recovery by a private party that has itself incurred cleanup costs.