PRPs: What Are They?

In the wake of an environmental contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) begins a cleanup and enforcement process. One of the first steps in this process involves identifying Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs). These PRPs include the people and/or entities potentially responsible for the contamination. Evaluation of a person or entity’s liability for a contamination is a detailed process. EPA scrutinizes all PRPs for liability in the contamination through various means, including:

  1. site investigation and sampling;
  2. interviews with witnesses;
  3. document review;
  4. title searches; and
  5. other investigative research conducted in online and in libraries.

EPA seeks to match waste and/or other evidence found at the contamination site with individuals and entities who may be responsible for the contamination.

After identifying PRPs, EPA examines the nature of a parties involvement in the contamination site. This involvement may include a party’s ownership of the site, or a party’s business operating on or near the site. EPA takes into account the amount of waste each party may have contributed, as well as a party’s ability to pay for, or pay partially for, a site’s cleanup. In addition, EPA evaluates the defenses likely to be claimed by a party, and any applicable exemptions or exclusions to responsibility.

EPA’s mechanism for responding to mass scale contamination is informally called the Superfund Program. This program, as established under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) addresses thousands of contaminations existing nationwide. These contaminations are the result of hazardous waste being dumped, exposed, or otherwise mismanaged. Superfund is an effective means for addressing contaminations caused by, for example, oil spills and natural disasters. However, the Superfund program is reserved for significant contamination sites, and in those situations in which PRPs may be identified, the EPA seeks to enforce responsibility on involved parties. The location and identification of PRPs maximizes the efficacy of the Superfund resources. By asking PRPs to conduct their own investigations and begin a site cleanup before the deployment of Superfund resources, EPA helps to ensure public health and the maintenance of a robust environment.