Confusion over what damages are recoverable as natural resource damages (NRD) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) and other federal statutes abounds, giving credence to the oft-repeated phrase that “CERCLA is not a model of legislative clarity.” Among other things, confusion appears in discussions among the Department of the Interior, legislators, and courts regarding the recoverability of cultural resource damages as NRD under CERCLA. But the statute and caselaw are clear. As demonstrated here, CERCLA establishes that injuries to cultural resources, no matter how they are described, are not recoverable as NRD.
Mount Rushmore in western South Dakota is an example of a resource with cultural significance. Photo credit to Nell Green Nylen.