During World War II, the United States underwent a manufacturing transformation. Industry proliferated, and research and development into new chemical and manufacturing processes accelerated. After the armistice, this wartime effort transformed to address the consumer. Thousands of newly created synthetic chemicals were deployed to create household products and industrial materials. Unaware or unwilling to admit the risks, hazardous industry and waste proliferated. The economy swelled, and it would take two decades for citizens and the United States to realize this expansion came at a tragic cost. Beginning in the late 1970s, citizens and environmentalists raised alarm at the proliferation of unregulated hazardous waste from industry and manufacturing. Their advocacy led to the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
CERCLA was passed in 1980 and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. The Act provides a clear example of protective regulatory policy, combined with a redistributive effect. This bill authorized the federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency, to mandate and finance clean up of sites contaminated by hazardous waste. A National Priority List (NPL) was established to identify toxic sites and designate the priority of remedial action. The NPL would be administered by the newly-created Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which conducted health and risk assessments at hazardous sites (Congressional Research Service, 2013). Significantly, this bill also stipulated that Potentially Responsible Parties (PFPs) be identified and held financially liable for the clean up. This structure of liability, as well as a taxation mechanism, created a “superfund” for addressing hazardous waste.
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Kitzel, Lehna, "The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act: Policy Analysis" (2023). Accessed from