WASHINGTON - April 12 - Recommendations in a report submitted to the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology full Committee today for reforms to the federal Superfund toxic waste cleanup program fail to address the program's dramatic funding shortfall, could jeopardize public health, and fail to require polluters to pay for toxic cleanups, charged U.S. PIRG and citizen representatives on the report committee.
EPA created the National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) Superfund Subcommittee 22 months ago in response to a Congressionally requested study that concluded a continuing or increased need for federal toxic cleanups across the nation. Over the objections of the citizen representatives on the committee, industry representatives, who accounted for approximately two thirds of the committee's membership, blocked recommendations to increase funding, and the non-consensus policy options are not attributed to any party.
"Many of the panel's recommendations for changing Superfund could jeopardize public health and weaken EPA's ability to make polluters pay to clean up toxic waste sites," said U.S. PIRG Environmental Health Advocate Julie Wolk. "By keeping the sources secret, EPA can implement the recommendations of some of the biggest Superfund polluters in the country without a paper trail," she continued.
Funding for the Superfund program decreased by at least 25 percent between 2001-2004 compared with 1992-2000, with site cleanups slowing down nearly 50% in the last three years. Last year, the Bush administration cleaned up only 40 Superfund toxic waste sites compared to an average of 87 sites per year in the middle and late 1990's. The EPA Inspector General recently reported a $175 million funding shortfall for fiscal year 2003.
In addition, since Congress allowed Superfund's polluter pays fees to expire in 1995 and the trust fund is now essentially bankrupt, regular taxpayers, who paid 18 percent of program costs in 1996, will pay for virtually all cleanups at abandoned sites this year. Former Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton all collected the polluter pays fees or supported their reinstatement, but the Bush administration opposes reinstating the fees.
"Instead of thinking up ways to weaken the Superfund program, the Bush administration should push to reinstate Superfund's polluter pays fees and demand that the EPA start cleaning up more toxic waste sites," Wolk said.