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Should Taxpayers Pay the Cost of Superfund?

February 1992

Citation: ELR 10089

Author: Matthew F. Lintner and Rena I. Steinzor

Throughout the history of the Superfurnd program,1 potentially responsible parties (PRPs) have searched for ways to distribute the costs of cleanup as broadly as possible. PRPs look high and low for deep pockets in their attempts to spread the pain, and the ensuing litigation makes no one but Superfund lawyers happy. Until recently, PRPs focused their efforts on other industrial PRPs and their insurance companies. In the last two years, however, PRPs have begun to focus on spreading Superfund costs to the deepest pocket of all: the nation's taxpayers.

The extraordinarily broad liability scheme of the Superfund statute is being used to involve local governments across the country, and through them the general taxpayers, in costly defenses to third-party Superfund lawsuits. PRPs are asserting liability against local governments for the generation or the transportation of municipal solid waste (MSW), including ordinary garbage and sewage sludge, which was sent to what later became a Superfund site, and courts are allowin the suits to proceed. This tactic could shift potentially billions of dollars in cleanup costs to taxpayers.

Ms. Steinzor is a partner and Mr. Lintner is an associate at Spiegel & McDiarmid, a Washington D.C.-based law firm specializing in the representation of municipalities. The firm serves as legislative counsel to American Communities for Cleanup Equity, a national coalition of local governments that was formed to address municipal issues under the Superfund program.

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