Schatz - Rockefeller Bills Will Hold Polluters Accountable for Spills

Legislation Will Make Sure Taxpayers Not Left Footing the Bill, Provide More Clean-up Funding

Washington, DC -  Following the spill of approximately 7,500 gallons of crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) into the Elk River last week that tainted the water supply for more than 300,000 West Virginians and a 233,000-gallon molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor in September that was one of the worst environmental catastrophes in Oahu’s history, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D- Hawaii) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced legislation to make those responsible for such spills pay for the clean-up and to provide more funding for states and agencies responsible for responding to these incidents.

“The spill disasters in Honolulu Harbor and in West Virginia may seem different, but they both reveal a disturbing loophole under the Superfund law.  Neither molasses nor MCHM are designated as hazardous by the federal government, despite the damage that can occur to people’s health, businesses, and our environment when spilled,” Schatz said.  “Even if the responsible party is negligent and causes millions of dollars in damage, right now taxpayers are left with the clean-up bill under federal law.  Our legislation will make sure polluters pay when dangerous spills hurt our families, businesses, and environment.”

“Last week’s enormous chemical spill poisoned the water supply for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians devastated families and shuttered schools, businesses. That crisis demands an immediate response,” Rockefeller said. “Whether through asking the Chemical Safety Board to investigate the spill’s causes; requesting more resources for the agency so it can figure out what went wrong and outline prevention strategies; or asking public health experts to examine the nature of this chemical and its long term health effects, I’m vigorously pursuing every avenue possible to assist as West Virginians deal with this emergency. Our families and businesses have suffered tremendously and have born significant costs already. This bill corrects a glaring hole in our law that leaves residents vulnerable to shouldering the cleanup costs associated with a non-hazardous chemical spill.”

Senator Schatz has been working on the two bills since the devastating molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor this September and working with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.  The bills are designed to:

  • Create accountability and require companies who spill materials that are dangerous but not deemed hazardous by the EPA —like molasses or crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM)—to pay for clean-up costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund.  Currently polluters cannot be forced to pay for clean-up costs under Superfund if materials released are not specifically included on a list of hazardous materials.  The incidents in Hawaii and West Virginia have shown that this list is not adequately protecting the public interest; and
  • Raise the Superfund cap on clean-ups associated with harmful spills from $2 million to $4 million, doubling the amount of Superfund money available for spill remediation.  The current $2 million cap has not been updated since 1986, or kept up with inflation.