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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Washington, D.C.

09/04/1997
           Oral Statement of Carol M. Browner
      Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                          before the
     U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
                         Washington, DC
                       September 4, 1997


     Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here once again to discuss the reform of our nation's toxic waste cleanup program.

     This is the second time this year I have testified before the Environment and Public Works Committee on Superfund reform legislation.  I will gladly come up here a third, fourth and fifth time if that's what it takes to get a Superfund bill we can all agree on -- a bill that would build upon the progress of the Clinton Administration's administrative reforms that have made the Superfund program faster, fairer and more efficient.

     I want to be clear -- the Clinton Administration remains strongly committed to working with this committee and other members of Congress to enact responsible Superfund reform legislation this year.

     Mr. Chairman, the recent trade-press reports notwithstanding, you and I both know that we have made progress toward common ground.  We can continue to narrow the gaps that still exist.  And, in the end, we will deliver on our shared responsibility to protect public health and the environment by ridding America's neighborhoods of toxic waste dumps.

     And I am optimistic that, working together, we can achieve our common goal of a Superfund program that cleans up more toxic waste sites faster, protects the health of our citizens, and returns land to communities for productive use.  

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

     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.

     We are making historic progress on a major goal of this Administration and this committee -- reducing litigation and transaction costs, working more cooperatively with responsible parties, increasing the fairness of the liability system, and getting "the little guys" out of the litigation web that surrounds many hazardous waste sites.  In fact, the Clinton Administration has acted to remove more than 9,000 small parties from Superfund litigation over the past four years.

     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 292 Superfund cleanups over the past four years -- more than in the previous 12 years combined.  More than 80 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 900 toxic waste sites through the year 2000 -- and we still need Congress to supply the necessary funding to meet this goal.

     We have been achieving this progress while keeping faith with the original promise of the Superfund law -- protect the public health and the environment first -- and ensure that, wherever and whenever possible, those responsible for polluting a site, and not the taxpayers, will be held responsible for the costs of cleaning it up.

     We believe that Superfund reform legislation can and should build on this progress.

     As such, we are deeply concerned that the markup of S.8, scheduled for next week, will not produce a bill that enjoys the support of the Administration, Senate Democrats or a broad range of Superfund stakeholders.  Without this consensus, a Superfund bill simply will not be enacted this year.

     In our view, the bill does show considerable improvements over earlier drafts.  It now would require cleanups to meet certain federal and state standards.  It would provide increased opportunities for the public to participate in the cleanup of toxic waste sites.  It would require that groundwater around Superfund sites be cleaned up under the same standards used for drinking water.  And it would provide a settlement process -- rather than wholesale exemptions -- for those parties that contribute small amounts of hazardous wastes to Superfund sites.

     This is real progress toward a consensus.

     However, we continue to have significant concerns about the bill.  For example, it would not provide for the adequate treatment of highly toxic or highly mobile hazardous waste.  It would not ensure the containment and reduction of the sources of groundwater contamination.  It would relieve large polluters from liability at landfills where they are a major contributor of hazardous waste.  It would allow states to assume complex cleanup responsibilities without guarantees of public review or comment -- and without ensuring there is adequate legal authority to protect public health.   And it would fail to ensure that public natural resources are restored as part of the Superfund process.

     These and other characteristics of S.8 would actually roll back the progress we have made with the Superfund program over the past four years.

     Mr. Chairman, this administration wants to see Superfund reform passed into law.  We want to see the program further strengthened along the principles we have previously submitted
to this committee:

     Protect human health and the environment, promote cost-effectiveness, and foster the
     return of contaminated sites to productive use by their communities.

     Hold polluters responsible, while at the same time allowing parties to resolve their liability
     as efficiently and as fairly as possible.

     Encourage and support citizens in their efforts to participate in the cleanup decisions that
     affect their lives.

     And support a continued working relationship between all levels of government in
     cleaning up toxic waste sites.
     
     The bottom line, Mr. Chairman, is that we want to fulfill our responsibility to find better, more effective ways to clean up the nation's worst sites, to work with affected communities, and to give them hope for the future.

     We know that is your goal, too.

     Can we work together on this?

     Can we get back to the table and hammer out a bill that all of us can support?

     Can we do what is necessary to make Superfund reform happen in the 105th Congress?

     I believe we can.  I hope that we will.

     Thank you, and I will be happy to answer your questions.  And I would ask Mr. Chairman, that Acting NOAA Administrator Terry Garcia be allowed to join me to answer any questions the committee members may have on natural resource damage issues.