Legislation to Protect Small Businesses from Hazardous Liability Litigation Passed

May 30, 2001

Legislation that would provide Superfund liability protection for small-businesses that disposed of municipal solid waste before April 1, 2001 recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to Julie Gackenbach, the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII) director of Government Relations in the NAII’s Washington office, the action marks the first positive step taken on the Superfund issue in years. She added that although approval of HR 1831 by the House is a giant leap forward in protection for small businesses, comprehensive reform of the Superfund program still needs to be addressed by Congress, which should continue its momentum toward approval of Brownfields legislation.

Gackenbach explained that in certain scenarios small businesses would not be protected. Small businesses are defined as those with fewer than 100 full-time employees. She said that HR 1831 would provide liability protection for those small businesses unless:

• the disposal contributed significantly to cost of the cleanup.
• the company impeded the investigation or performance of the cleanup.
• the company or an individual employed by the company was convicted of a crime related to the disposal of the hazardous waste.

An exception would be provided in cases where the total amount of the hazardous substance is less than 110 gallons of liquid material or less than 200 pounds of solid material.

Gackenbach said nothing in the legislation would affect already concluded cleanups. She added that the policy is consistent with a five-year old Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy relating to small businesses.

HR 1831 will now go to the Senate for approval.

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