Found at 40 CFR 300, the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, or National Contingency Plan (NCP) for short, is the Federal government’s blueprint for responding to hazardous substance releases and oil spills that reach the environment.
But what is the National Contingency Plan, and how does it impact your compliance responsibilities?
Beginnings of the National Contingency Plan
The first version of the NCP was published in 1968. Like many environmental laws and regulations, the NCP was a response to an international environmental incident—in this case, the release of 37 million gallons of crude oil from the tanker Torrey Canyon off the coast of England. After that oil spill, Congress asked, “How can we prevent that from happening in the United States?”
Updates to the NCP Over Time
The 1968 NCP was aimed mostly at responding to oil spills. Later, the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA) required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to expand the scope of the NCP to include responses to releases of hazardous substances.
Another revision came after Congress created the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which added releases at hazardous waste sites that require emergency removal actions to the NCP’s scope.
The most recent changes to the NCP, which expanded on the original requirements for responses to oil spills, came in 1994 under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA)—enacted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.
A National Plan Promotes Coordination
The NCP is a nationwide plan intended to promote coordination among emergency responders and between the various response plans those responders or impacted sites may have implemented.
In fact, to clean up a contaminated site and recoup costs from other potentially responsible parties (PRPs) under CERCLA, the person(s) performing clean up must demonstrate compliance with the NCP. Specifically, the NCP calls for descriptions of:
- Removal and response actions and procedures.
- Participation of other persons in the response actions.
- The use of dispersants and other chemicals in removals and response actions.
What’s in the National Contingency Plan?
To foster consistency across organizations and states, the National Contingency Plan outlines standardized methods for:
- Discovering and investigating sites at which hazardous substances have been released.
- Determining and evaluating remedies for threats to public health and the environment.
- Determining the appropriate extent of removal or remedy.
- Establishing appropriate roles for various levels of government.
- Determining and acquiring response equipment and supplies and provisions for their maintenance and storage.
- Assuring the cost-effectiveness of remedial measures.
- Prioritizing releases for the purposes of taking remedial or removal action, based on the urgency of the release.
Which Releases are Subject to the NCP?
Generally, the NCP applies to any release of oil of hazardous substances that reach the environment and "may present imminent and substantial danger to public health or welfare."
In addition, the NCP applies to all sites on EPA's National Priorities List, or NPL.
How does a site get added to the National Priorities List (be named a Superfund site) and become subject to the NCP? Below we’ve outlined the basic process. To learn more about each of these five steps, read How Do Sites Get On or Off the Superfund List?
- The site is discovered, and the EPA is notified.
- A preliminary assessment (PA) and site inspection (SI) are conducted.
- If warranted by the PA and SI, the site is added to the National Priorities List.
- Once on the NPL, a remedial investigation (RI) and feasibility study (FS) are carried out.
- A remedial action plan (RAP) is developed and remediation commences in accordance with the NCP.
Eventually, Superfund sites are successfully remediated and are removed from the NPL and are thus no longer subject to the NCP.
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