Negotiating Superfund Settlements
EPA negotiates cleanup agreements with potentially responsible parties (PRPs). These agreements are written in the form of administrative orders on consent or judicial consent decrees. Negotiations are based on model settlement agreements, which are usually modified to fit the circumstances at a particular site. [More information on work elements and long-term stewardship within settlement agreements, including institutional controls.]
EPA prefers to reach an agreement with PRPs to clean up a Superfund site instead of issuing an order or paying for it and recovering the cleanup costs later.
Settlement agreements must be:
- In the public interest, and
- Consistent with the National Contingency Plan.
A Special notice letter invites PRPs to enter into good faith negotiations and gives the PRPs 60 days to provide EPA with a good faith offer to do site work or pay for cleanup.
If PRPs provide a good faith offer, there is generally another 60 days for negotiation.
If PRPs do not submit a good faith offer at the end of 60 days, EPA may start the cleanup work or issue a unilateral administrative order, requiring the PRPs to do the work.
Settlement agreements usually include long-term stewardship obligations to maintain the cleanup. Long-term stewardship activities typically include physical and legal controls to prevent exposure to contamination left in place at a site. The legal controls are generally referred to as "institutional controls."
For example, a groundwater cleanup may involve operating a treatment system for 30 or more years. At such a site, a legal control such as a groundwater use regulation may be used to meet the long-term stewardship obligation.
Long-Term Stewardship/Institutional Controls in Superfund Settlements
EPA uses institutional controls to help:
- minimize human exposure to contamination, and
- protect structures and systems that are part of the cleanup (such as groundwater monitoring systems and landfill covers).
Institutional controls are considered part of the remedy for the site. How institutional controls are enforced depends on the nature of the control and how it is initiated (e.g., through a local ordinance; in an enforceable agreement).
EPA is currently engaged in a long term review of compliance with institutional controls imposed as part of Superfund cleanups. Information on this review will be made available when it is completed.
Examples of IC's include:
- zoning restrictions
- well drilling prohibitions
- special building permit requirements
- deed restrictions
- state or local ordinances
- deed or hazard notices
- state registries of contaminated properties
- restrictions on groundwater use
Further information on institutional controls is available on the Institutional Controls Web page and from the Superfund cleanup policy and guidance database on institutional controls.
Administrative Dispute Resolution (ADR) uses techniques and processes that help parties resolve their disputes without resorting to litigation.
For more information on ADR, visit the Office of General Counsel's Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center.