Natural Resource Damage Claims and Assessment Regulations Under Superfund

RCED-84-196: Published: Sep 4, 1984. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the implementation of the natural resource damage claims provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund.

Under the act, federal and state trustees of natural resources may submit claims against Superfund for reimbursement for injury to or destruction or loss of natural resources caused by release of hazardous substances. A trust fund to be accumulated between fiscal years 1981 and 1985 is to be used to finance cleanup activities and to pay any allowed claims. The Department of the Interior has been delegated the authority to develop regulations on conducting natural resource damage assessments which, together with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, have the purpose of establishing a mechanism for trustees to seek compensation for damages to natural resources. GAO found that, as of August 1984, Interior had not proposed or developed the regulations. Interior cited various reasons for the delay in issuing its regulations including a lack of resources and information and other priorities. GAO found that EPA disallowed 57 claims submitted by four states in 1983 to recover $2.7 billion for damages to natural resources. Officials in seven states contacted by GAO disagreed with the basis for the EPA invalidation of the claims and stated that Interior's regulations should have been issued to help guide the states in filing their claims. Further, attorneys in the seven states stated their belief that Interior's failure to issue the assessment regulations will be a serious obstacle to the states' present and future litigation. GAO stated that EPA and Interior have recently acted to expedite the development of their respective regulations.

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