Time to Clean Up the Confusion

Reeling in the Extension of CERCLA Contribution to Parties Settling State Law Liability

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) is a federal law which allows those who undertake environmental cleanups to obtain contribution from the government and other parties in order to help offset their cleanup costs. Despite it being uncontroverted that parties may seek contribution under CERCLA, the circumstances under which parties are entitled to contribution are less than certain. This uncertainty has led to a circuit split between the Second Circuit and the Third Circuit as to when contribution is available under CERCLA. The Second Circuit requires a party seeking contribution to have first settled their environmental claims under CERCLA. Conversely, the Third Circuit allows parties to receive contribution under CERCLA so long as the party’s liability under state environmental laws has been settled, regardless of whether the party has settled its liability under CERCLA. Under the Third Circuit’s interpretation, the differences between statelaw and CERCLA thresholds allow the party seeking contribution to settle claims strategically, by settling its liabilities under whichever laws have the lowest threshold. This Note argues that if the Supreme Court were to address the uncertainty surrounding the issue of contribution under CERCLA, then it should adopt the Second Circuit’s interpretation in order to effectuate the purpose of CERCLA and add much needed clarity to this convoluted statute.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.