Liability and Reporting
- Once a facility properly notifies the National Response Center (NRC), is it exempted from any liability for damages that the release may cause?
- If a facility releases a hazardous substance below its Reportable Quantity (RQ) level, could it be liable for damages caused by the release?
- What are the penalties for failure to report a release?
Once a facility properly notifies the National Response Center (NRC), is it exempted from any liability for damages that the release may cause?
No. Proper and timely reporting of a release in accordance with Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) section 103 does not preclude liability for cleanup costs, natural resource damages, and costs of any necessary health studies conducted under CERCLA section 104(i). It does, however, eliminate potential penalties for failure to notify the NRC.
If a facility releases a hazardous substance below its Reportable Quantity (RQ) level, could it be liable for damages caused by the release?
Yes. A release of a CERCLA hazardous substance below its RQ does not preclude liability from any damages that may result, including the costs of cleaning up that release or for any natural resource damages, should such costs be determined to be appropriate under CERCLA or any other applicable law.
Failure to comply with the CERCLA section 103 notification requirements may result in fines, per offense, of up to $500,000 and prison sentences of up to three years (or up to five years for second and subsequent convictions). A person in charge of a vessel or facility with knowledge of a reportable release who fails to report the release immediately, or who submits information that he or she knows is false and misleading, is subject to these penalties. Section 325(b) of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) establishes criminal penalties, per offense, of up to $25,000 and prison sentences of up to two years (or up to $50,000 and five years for second and subsequent convictions) for violations of EPCRA section 304 notification requirements.
CERCLA section 109 and EPCRA section 325 also authorize administrative penalties enforced through civil proceedings. There are two classes of administrative penalties: Class I penalties of up to $25,000 per violation and Class II penalties, which are assessed according to section 554 of the Administrative Procedure Act (which requires a formal hearing), of up to $25,000 per day of a continuing violation, or $75,000 per day for subsequent violations. The Agency may also impose Class II penalties by bringing action in the appropriate U.S. district court.