Cuts to Superfund Slow Cleanup at 33 Sites

The Bush administration will curtail or halt completely financing the cleanup of 33 toxic waste sites in 18 states, according to an Environmenetal Protection Agency (EPA) inspector general report made public by two Democratic congressmen who requested the investigation.

The spending cuts are necessary because the cleanup fund is $225 million short of the amount required to keep the Superfund program on schedule. Superfund, a perennially controversial issue, has been running out of money since Congress failed several years ago to renew the taxes on industry that had supported fund.

The administration wants to reduce the payments from the fund as well as the number of sites being cleaned up while shifting the burden of paying for future work to all taxpayers. Congressional and environmentalist critics charge this means abandoning the principle that "the polluter pays," a crucial foundation of the Superfund program.

You dont know whats happening with Superfund spending until the end of the fiscal year, countered an EPA spokesperson, adding that the IG report represents a snapshot that is two months old.

To say we are cutting Superfund spending is entirely inaccurate and all sites with ongoing cleanups will receive funding in fiscal year 2002--no work is being suspended.

Nor, the spokesperson added, has the Bush administration abandoned the polluter pays principle: private parties are footing the bill for more than two-thirds of Superfund cleanup costs.

In a step to address the growing problems of Superfund, EPA announced in late May the formation of a new advisory panel to make recommendations on the role Superfund should play in addressing the nation's most polluted and costly hazardous waste sites. Formed as a subcommittee of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, and chaired by Raymond Loehr, professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, the panel will be asked to reach consensus on:

  • The role of the National Priorities List in cleaning up the worst Superfund sites;
  • The role of Superfund at the largest sites, where cleanup costs are expected to exceed $50 million;
  • Measuring the program's performance.

A final report from the subcommittee is expected within 12 to 18 months. For further information on the subcommittee, including how the public can offer comments on Superfund, see www.epa.gov/oswer/SFsub.htm.

The EPA inspector general's report on Superfund can be found at www.house.gov/commerce_democrats/press/062402epaltr.pdf.

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