State Superfund Unit: CECRA Program

What Is CECRA?

The State Superfund Unit utilizes the Comprehensive Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act (CECRA) and the Environmental Quality Protection Fund (EQPF) to investigate and cleanup hazardous substances at sites not addressed by federal Superfund. Historical waste disposal activities at these sites caused contamination of air, surface water, groundwater, sediments, and/or soils with hazardous or deleterious substances. Under CECRA, sites are ranked based on potential risks to human health and the environment.

The Comprehensive Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act (CECRA) defines “Facility” as all areas where a hazardous or deleterious substance has been deposited, stored, disposed of, placed, or otherwise come to be located (§75-10-701(4), MCA).

CECRA Legislation

The act is contained in §§ 75-10-705 through 729, MCA.

CECRA History

The 1985 Montana Legislature passed the Environmental Quality Protection Fund Act. This Act created a legal mechanism for the Department to investigate and clean up, or require liable persons to investigate and clean up, hazardous or deleterious substance facilities in Montana. The 1985 Act also established the Environmental Quality Protection Fund (EQPF). The EQPF is a revolving fund in which all penalties and costs recovered pursuant to the EQPF Act are deposited. The EQPF can be used only to fund activities relating to the release of a hazardous or deleterious substance. Although the 1985 Act established the EQPF, it did not provide a funding mechanism for the Department to administer the Act. Therefore, no activities were conducted under this Act until 1987.

The 1987 Montana Legislature passed a bill creating a delayed funding mechanism that appropriated 4 percent of the Resource Indemnity Trust (RIT) interest money for Department activities at non-National Priority List facilities beginning in July 1989 (§ 15-38-202 MCA). In October 1987, the Department began addressing state Superfund facilities. Temporary grant funding was used between 1987 and 1989 to clean up two facilities and rank approximately 250 other facilities. Beginning in fiscal year 1995, the 4 percent allocation was changed to 6 percent to adjust for other legislative changes in RIT allocations.  Effective July 1, 1999, the 6 percent allocation was increased to 9 percent.

The 1989 Montana Legislature significantly amended the Act, changing its name to the Montana Comprehensive Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act (CECRA) and providing the Department with similar authorities as provided under the federal Superfund Act (CERCLA). With the passage of CECRA, the state Superfund program became the CECRA Program. Major revisions to CECRA did not occur until the 1995 Legislature, when the Voluntary Cleanup and Redevelopment Act (VCRA), a mixed-funding pilot program, and a requirement to conduct a collaborative study on alternative liability schemes were added and provisions related to remedy selection were changed. Based on the results of the collaborative study, the 1997 Legislature adopted the Controlled Allocation of Liability Act, which provides a voluntary process for the apportionment of liability at CECRA facilities and establishes an orphan share fund.  Minor revisions to CECRA have been made by the 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2005 Legislatures.

The CECRA Process

Prioritize & Initial Investigation:

DEQ evaluates sites where hazardous or deleterious substances may have been released and determines the priority for further action. Some sites may go through the federal superfund site process for initial investigation to determine if contamination is present at levels that require additional evaluation and if the site has the potential to be a federal superfund site. Only a few sites go on to become federal superfund sites and some that could be federal sites remain state superfund sites. The remaining sites follow the process below.

Identify & Notify:

Some sites are cleaned up through the voluntary cleanup program if the cleanup can be completed in five years. At other sites, DEQ conducts a good faith investigation to identify the persons responsible for investigating and cleaning up a contaminated site. This typically includes deed and record searches, seeking information from people that worked at or owned/operated a site, and reviewing historical documents to determine when and how contamination occurred. Then DEQ officially informs the person that they are responsible and offers the person the opportunity to properly and expeditiously conduct the necessary work. If the person fails to conduct the work, DEQ may order the person to do the work.

3-Step Investigation:

This process is used to determine if and how a site needs to be cleaned up. The responsible person completes these steps. A remedial investigation is performed to determine the full nature and extent of the contamination. A risk assessment evaluates the threats posed to human health and the environment and allows for the development of site-specific cleanup levels. Finally, a feasibility study evaluates the various options for cleaning up the site. DEQ uses this information to determine if a site needs to be cleaned up, and if so, how it should be done. Interim actions may be conducted at any time during this process (as long as they would not interfere with final cleanup) to quickly reduce the amount of contamination and protect public health.

Determining the Final Cleanup:

DEQ prepares a proposed plan to outline the preferred cleanup option for the site. The public has the opportunity to comment on the preferred cleanup option. DEQ considers the comments and may revise the final cleanup based upon public comment. DEQ’s determination of the final cleanup for a site is documented in its record of decision.

Implementing the Final Cleanup:

Typically, DEQ and the responsible person negotiate a consent decree or order to implement the cleanup. Engineering design documents are completed and the project is bid. Cleanup continues until contamination no longer poses an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment and compliance with all environmental laws is achieved. The final cleanup is documented in a remedial action report.

No Further Action/Delisting:

Once DEQ determines that all cleanup criteria are met at a site, a no further action letter is issued and the site may be delisted, if appropriate.