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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Environmental Cleanup and Waste Management

Jonathan L. Ramseur, Coordinator
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Although environmental cleanup and waste management policies have a common goal— to reduce risk to human health and the environment—they raise distinct policy questions that are generally addressed with different policy approaches. For instance, environmental cleanup issues generally require reactive public policies that seek to address an existing problem: environmental contamination. Waste management issues, on the other hand, typically deal with current waste materials, and thus involve proactive policies, initiated to prevent environmental damages. 

Environmental cleanup issues continue to generate interest among policymakers. For much of the 20th Century, the standard method of waste disposal was to bury the waste or dump it in a nearby waterway. This resulted in thousands of contaminated properties owned by private parties and the federal government, some of which posed dangerous threats to human health. This problem is nationwide. To address this problem of waste from past activities, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA, commonly referred to as Superfund). CERCLA authorizes the federal government to clean up contaminated sites in the United States and to make the "potentially responsible parties" connected to those sites financially liable for the cleanup costs. CERCLA created the Superfund program to carry out these authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for administering the program.

Date of Report: January 11, 2010
Number of Pages: 5
Order Number: IS40275
Price: $7.95

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