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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment

10/29/1997
          Oral Statement of Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                          before the
            United States House of Representatives
     Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment
       

                         October 29, 1997
                               


     Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, good afternoon and thank you for the
opportunity to testify here today.


     This is the third time this year I've been up here on Capitol Hill to testify on this most
critical issue for the American people.  As you know, I have been before this subcommittee
several times over the past four years to discuss the reform of our nation's toxic waste cleanup
program.


     Mr. Chairman, let me be clear I am not complaining.  I'd gladly come up here tomorrow,
the next day -- all weekend -- if that's what it will take to get a bill we can agree on -- a bill that
will work for the American people.  It's that important to me and to this Administration.  Let me
be clear -- we are strongly committed to working with this subcommittee, and with others, to
enact responsible Superfund reform legislation in the 105th Congress.


     We want to build on our administration's own successes in making Superfund faster, fairer
and more efficient.


     We want to rid America's communities of the scourge of hazardous waste.  No child
should have to grow up near a toxic waste dump.


     Also important -- we want to protect the "little guys" -- the small businesses, the "Mom
and Pop" operations -- from becoming unfairly tangled in Superfund litigation.


     On that score, I want to thank you and Ranking Member Borski for your leadership on
reform of Superfund.  And let me commend Congressman Barcia, as well, for his efforts on this
issue.


     I truly believe that, by working together, we can get a bill.  I believe we can achieve our
common goal of a Superfund program that cleans up more toxic waste sites even faster, and does
an even better job of protecting the health of our citizens and returning land to communities for
productive use.  


     However, at the same time, we must be careful not to undermine the significant progress
we have already achieved in improving the Superfund program.


     Let me talk about that progress for a moment.

     Thanks to the administrative reforms we have undertaken, Superfund now provides
significantly faster cleanups, at lower cost, than it did several years ago.


     On average, we have cut more than two years off the time it takes to clean up a Superfund
site -- and we are well on our way to achieving our goal of saving even more time.


     Thanks to our administrative reforms, the Superfund program is faster, fairer and more
efficient than it used to be.  We have completed a total of 343 Superfund cleanups over the past
four years -- more than in the previous 12 years combined.  More than 85 percent of all Superfund
sites are either cleaned up or are in the midst of cleanup construction.


     However, the job is not done. The President has committed to doubling the current pace
of cleanup by cleaning up a total of 900 toxic waste sites through the year 2000 -- and we still
need Congress to supply the necessary funding to meet this goal.


     Let me assure you, Mr. Chairman, that the situation described recently on the "60
Minutes" program is something that has frustrated us from the day we took office.


     For years, we have tried to solve this problem.

     The owner of a diner who sends mashed potatoes to the local dump should not have to
worry about being sued by the large, corporate polluters who are responsible for contaminating
that dump.  Innocent landowners, churches, girl scout troops, and small storefront businesses
should be spared from crippling litigation by the large, corporate polluters over Superfund sites.


     Yet, unfortunately, this continues to happen.

     It is a tragedy.  It is wrong.  There is a flaw in the current system.  We have to fix it.

     We at EPA have been doing everything we possibly can to protect these small parties --
but we are doing it with one hand tied behind our back.  We are constrained by a bad law.


    It is clear that we need legislation to really stop this from happening again.  That is why
we have been so eager, year after year, to work with you and find some way to prevent this from
happening again.


     The case of Keystone Landfill in Pennsylvania -- the example used on "60 Minutes" -- is a
compelling reason why it is so important that all of us roll up our sleeves and come to agreement
on a Superfund reform bill that will prevent small parties from being unfairly sued by the big
polluters.


     We believe that those who are really responsible -- not small parties and certainly not the
taxpayers -- should have to bear the cost of cleaning up these hazardous waste sites.  That is a
vitally important principle -- and one that is part of the original Superfund law.


     Which brings me to your bill, Mr. Chairman, H.R. 2727.

     Make no mistake -- this bill is a good-faith effort to address those areas of the Superfund
program that need improvement.  And we truly appreciate your efforts, Mr. Chairman, to address
some of the administration's concerns with other Superfund reform bills.


     However, I am sorry to say we cannot support it in its current form.

     While we appreciate the elimination of the disposal carve out , we are concerned with the
bill's broad liability exemptions which would have the effect of shifting cleanup costs from
responsible polluters to the taxpayers.  We are concerned that it would create many new
opportunities for litigation.  It would delay cleanup efforts by reopening longstanding cleanup
settlements with a mandatory allocation process.


     We have other problems with the bill.  It would not adequately address the treatment of
the most highly toxic or highly mobile toxic waste -- and it would fail to ensure the long term
protection of public health and the environment.


     While I welcome your efforts to contain contaminated ground water, this bill would fail to
ensure the treatment of the sources of ground water contamination.  Without addressing the
sources of ground water contamination, it will be virtually impossible to restore ground water to
beneficial uses.


     We are also deeply concerned about what this bill would do to the states' role in the
process.  It would inappropriately limit EPA's ability to take response actions at a hazardous
waste site or spill -- or to compel action by a responsible party.  States would be able to assume
Superfund cleanup responsibility by default and without significant public participation.


     Mr. Chairman, let me conclude with this thought:

     We have our differences, yes.  But they are not insurmountable.

     We fully agree on the broad goal of making this Superfund program work better for
America.  We fully agree that the public health must be protected and that small, innocent parties
should be spared from litigation.


     And I believe we are all showing a willingness to move toward common ground.

     So let's continue to talk, to trade ideas, to work through our differences, and to seek
consensus on all issues.


     Working together, I know we can reach agreement and enact legislation that will build on
our reforms and take Superfund to a new level of effectiveness.  We owe the American people
nothing less than our very best effort.