Introduction: Portland Harbor & Superfund History
This page is intended to give newcomers to the scene some background information about the history of the Portland Harbor, its industrial roots, and the resulting pollution that we face today. Included is a brief history of the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act (CERCLA) and the establishment of the Superfund to deal with heavily contaminated sites such as the Portland Harbor.
Portland Harbor History
To read James Hillegas' historical blog, click here.
CERCLA & Superfund History
The industrial era and its unfettered pollution spurred a strong environmental movement in the 1960s and 70s that resulted in the creation of a large amount of environmental laws dealing with issues such as air and water pollution and solid waste disposal. These laws made immediate impacts by going after current pollution violations, however, ten years experience showed that large amounts of historic contamination accumulated and persisted in industrial areas and that the current laws had no power to deal with this type of pollution.
Events such as Love Canal in New York State and Times Beach in Missouri prompted Congress to pass CERCLA. Enacted in 1980, the new law gave EPA the authority to cleanup heavily contaminated sites by forcing parties responsible for the pollution to clean up the contamination or pay for government-run cleanup if they fit into four classes of potentially responsible parties (PRPs) regardless of whether they were at fault (strict liability).
CERCLA allows recovery of cleanup costs from a broad range of PRPs, including past and present owners and operators of contaminated property, transporters of hazardous waste, and persons who generate or arrange for the disposal of hazardous waste.
Importantly, Congress established the Superfund, a large sum of appropriated funds, which allows the government to act quickly by paying for response costs and to recover later from those responsible. Also, where historic polluters cannot be found, EPA can use Superfund money to cover "orphan shares."
Like mentioned above, much of the contamination in Portland Harbor accumulated before the advent of "control-and-command" statutes like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and RCRA (Solid Waste), and so a law such as CERCLA, with the power to go after past polluters, is essential to cleaning up large contaminated industrial areas like ours.
To see how Portland Harbor compares to other Superfund Sites like the Hudson and Duwamish Rivers, click here.
For an opinion on the current state of CERCLA, click here.
For critiques of CERCLA and suggested improvements to the program, click here.