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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

HazWaste World Superfund XVIII Conference Washington, D.C.

12/02/1997
               Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                Remarks Prepared for Delivery
          HazWaste World Superfund XVIII Conference
                        Washington, DC
                       December 2, 1997




     Good morning.  I am delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to share a few
thoughts on our nation's efforts to rid communities of the scourge of hazardous waste -- and to
help them build a cleaner, brighter and more healthy future.


     Over the past decade-and-a-half, the Superfund program has been in an almost constant
state of transition.  Cleaning up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites -- and removing the
threats to public health -- has always been a daunting challenge.  And, to be sure, Superfund has
had its fits and starts.


     But let me begin on an optimistic note.  By any measure, we are making a great deal of
progress in our efforts to improve the nation's hazardous waste cleanup program -- to make it
faster, fairer and more efficient -- and to ensure that it does the best possible job of protecting the
health of our citizens and returning land to communities for productive use.


     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 have completed a total of 344 Superfund cleanups over the past four-and-a-half years
-- more than twice as many as in the previous 12 years combined.  More than 86 percent of all
Superfund sites are either cleaned up or are in the midst of cleanup construction.


     In fact, this month, we will be marking the completion of all construction activity at the
500th Superfund site.


     And our goal is to complete cleanup on another 400 sites by the end of the year 2000.

     We are also making great progress on a major goal of our Administration -- 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.


     These are just some of the improvements that have resulted from the administrative
reforms we have undertaken.


     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
possible and appropriate, those responsible for polluting a site, and not the taxpayers, will be held
responsible for the costs of cleaning it up.


     Now, does all this mean that everything is just fine and dandy with Superfund?  Of course
not.


     Much remains to be done to make this program as fast, as fair and as efficient as it can be -- and to enable Superfund to fulfill its promise to the American people.

     In addition, we still have more to do to fully protect the "little guys" -- the small
businesses, the "Mom and Pop" operations -- from becoming unfairly tangled in Superfund
litigation.


     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 -- despite our best efforts -- this continues to happen.

     The fact is that we are trying to protect these small parties with one hand tied behind our
back.  The current law just doesn't work well in this area.  And it is clear that we need legislation
to fix it -- as well as to solve some of the other problems that have eluded our administrative
reform efforts.


     Make no mistake, even after all we have done to improve Superfund, we believe that it
can be a better program -- that it can clean up more toxic waste sites faster -- that it can do an
even better job of protecting the health of our citizens.


     But we've got to have legislation.  And we are 100-percent committed to enacting
responsible Superfund reform legislation.


     Why else would I be spending so much time on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers and
testifying at hearings on Superfund?  Why else would EPA staff be working night and day with
Congressional staffers on this very issue?


     We want a bill.  And we're determined to bridge our differences with key members of
Congress so that we can enact legislation that will take this program to a new level of
effectiveness.


     We believe it can be done.  Yes, we do have major concerns about the Congressional
reform bills that have been introduced -- including Congressman Oxley's.  We simply believe that
they do not reflect today's Superfund program.  They do not account for the administrative
improvements we've made over the past few years.  And they would create new problems -- such
as slowing down the pace of cleanups, generating new litigation, and increasing costs to
taxpayers.


     The bills' sponsors have moved to address some of the concerns the Administration has
identified -- and we certainly appreciate that.  There has been movement.  All sides are showing
some willingness to move toward common ground.  And, while significant differences remain, I
believe they are not insurmountable.


     Let me sum up where the Administration stands on the goals of a reformed Superfund
program:


     We believe it should protect human health and the environment, promote cost-effectiveness, and foster the return of contaminated sites to productive use by their
    communities.


     We believe it should hold polluters responsible, while at the same time allowing parties to
    resolve their liability as efficiently as possible.


     We believe it should encourage and support citizens in their efforts to participate in the
    cleanup decisions that affect their lives.


     And we believe it should support a continued working relationship between all levels of
    government in cleaning up toxic waste sites.
   
    The bottom line 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 want to build on our administrative successes.  We want to rid more of
America's communities of the scourge of hazardous waste.  No child should have to grow up near
a toxic waste dump.


    And so I hope we will continue to talk, to trade ideas and to work through our differences
when Congress comes back in January.


     In the meantime, we are highly encouraged by the progress we have made on another
initiative -- this one to help America's neighborhoods redevelop the old, abandoned industrial
sites that are currently holding them back.  I'm talking, of course, about the Brownfields program.


     The interest expressed in brownfields redevelopment has been astounding.  EPA's second
annual Brownfields Conference, held this fall in Kansas City, was attended by nearly two thousand
people representing a wide range of businesses, organizations and governmental agencies.  Clearly
brownfields redevelopment is of growing interest to a large and growing body of states, county
and municipal governments, industries, financial institutions, and community groups.


     A lot of things are happening.

     Last May, the Vice President announced the new Brownfields National Partnership Action
Agenda -- a new mechanism through which the federal government and other organizations are
coordinating resources and efforts to help communities clean up and redevelop their brownfields.


     EPA's commitments include adding to the 121 Brownfields Pilot Grants that we have
awarded to provide states, counties and cities across the country with some of the resources
needed to spur site assessment and cleanup.  And we intend to award 100 new grants in the
coming year.


     The Action Agenda also includes something we call the Brownfields Showcase
Communities.  Early next year, EPA and our federal partners will designate 10 Brownfields
Showcase Communities across the country, and give them the mission of demonstrating to the
rest of the nation how to coordinate their brownfields activities and how to work with all levels of
government to proceed with the assessment, cleanup and sustainable re-use of their brownfields.
These Showcase Communities will be the models for successful brownfields redevelopment.  Each
of these designated communities will receive targeted assistance from 15 federal agencies.


     In addition, we now have a new Brownfield Tax Incentive on the books -- one signed by
President Clinton in August -- that will act as an incentive to spur the cleanup and redevelopment
of brownfields in distressed urban and rural areas.


     Under this incentive, environmental cleanup costs for properties in targeted areas are fully
deductible in the year in which they are incurred, rather than having to be capitalized.  This
substantially reduces the capital costs for investments in brownfields, making them more attractive
to investors.


    We are also hoping that Congress will enact legislation to further advance the Brownfields
initiative along the lines of where the program is now headed -- including support not only for site
assessment, but for cleanup, as well.  In addition, we would like to see legislation that provides
liability protection for bona fide prospective purchasers and innocent owners of contaminated
property.  And we would like it to support greater funding to state governments for development
and infrastructure enhancement of State Voluntary Cleanup Programs.


     We believe the Brownfields initiative has a great future.  I am convinced that more and
more Americans will see the value of these local brownfields partnerships as we move into the
payoff stage -- when all of the vision and hard work is translated into new development, new jobs
and a brighter future for communities that were once held back by the existence of a brownfield in
their midst.


     It's happening already.  And the results are truly compelling.

     Like the partnership that developed between the city of Richmond, Virginia, and a local
pharmaceutical company -- one that turned a five-acre brownfield in the southern part of the city
into a plant expansion project that will bring in 400 new jobs.


     Or the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies in Bridgeport, Connecticut -- joining
with the private sector -- to clean up derelict industrial land in the city's west end and pave the
way for new businesses and new jobs.


     I can go on and on.  The pledging of more than $150 million in public and private funds to
give Lawrence, Massachusetts new vitality and jobs.  The partnership that is working to restore
commercial and retail development -- and with it, hope and opportunity -- to the Martin Luther
King, Jr. Corridor in Indianapolis.  The efforts in Astoria, Oregon to clean up the city's
abandoned lumber mill sites and turn that city's waterfront into a thriving area once again.


     What do these redevelopment efforts have in common?

     Visionary leadership at the community level.  Determination to build a better future.
Energy and innovation.  People working together in partnership.  And a Brownfields pilot grant to
get their efforts off the ground.


     In the end, millions of dollars of new development.  Jobs created.  Hope restored.

     And all for a very small investment of federal money.

     These are among the first few success stories.  There will be many more to follow.  I am
convinced of that.


    What they tell us is this -- when we work together, when we do everything we can to find
common ground, there is almost no limit to what we can do to provide a safer, healthier world for
our children.


     Thank you.