"An Act relating to contribution actions relating to the release of a hazardous substance; and providing for an effective date. "
"Voluntary cleanups allow the State of Alaska to focus its limited resources on monitoring responsible party cleanup actions, instead of undertaking costly administrative or judicial enforcement actions to force cleanups, or undertaking cleanups at public expense."
- Rep. Ramras
House Bill 269 addresses contribution actions relating to the costs of environmental cleanups and the damages associated with hazardous substance releases. Current statutes impose joint and several liability associated with hazardous substance releases. They are known as responsible parties. A party who incurs cleanup costs and damages may bring a court action against other potentially responsible parties to have them pay for their fair share of the environmental cleanup.
Voluntary cleanups form the vast majority of the cleanups conducted in the State of Alaska. Voluntary cleanups allow the State of Alaska to focus its limited resources on monitoring responsible party cleanup actions, instead of undertaking costly administrative or judicial enforcement actions to force cleanups, or undertaking cleanups at public expense. The right to these contribution actions creates an important incentive for voluntary cleanups, by allowing responsible parties to undertake effective cleanups themselves, and then be able to share the costs and other related damages with other responsible parties, who may be unwilling to voluntarily undertake or assist with the cleanup.
The United States Supreme Court, in Cooper Industries v. Aviall Services, found that a responsible party could not bring a contribution action until such time as it has been sued by the state or federal government, or had entered into a formal administrative settlement of liability. The Aviall decision has created confusion as to the contribution rights of responsible parties who undertake voluntary cleanups, and has placed in jeopardy the process of voluntary cleanups under AS 46.03.822.
Furthermore, the Aviall decision is in conflict with an earlier Alaska Supreme Court decision in, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation v. Laidlaw Transit, and, in the absence of legislative action, responsible parties in Alaska may be fearful of undertaking voluntary cleanups at their own expense.
The purpose of HB 269, is to respond to the Aviall and Laidlaw decisions by clarifying the language in AS 46.03.822(j), ensuring that responsible parties who conduct voluntary cleanups may bring contribution actions against other responsible parties.