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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Subcommittee of House Transportation and Infrastructure

05/12/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery


                        Washington, D.C.
                          May 12, 1999

     Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and Members of the subcommittee.  I want to thank you, Chairman Boehlert and Ranking Member Borski for your leadership in supporting responsible legislative reform of Superfund. I want to also thank Representative Barcia for his support of Superfund reform.

     Mr. Chairman, the Administration appreciates all of the hard work that you and the Subcommittee staff devoted to developing H.R. 1300.  It represents a good faith effort to address areas of the Superfund program that we agree need improvement.

     However, the Administration cannot support the bill as currently drafted. The Superfund program has evolved over the past six years under the Clinton Administration. I'm afraid that this bill fixes problems that no longer exist. It breaks things that are working just fine. And it contains exemptions for large companies that shifts the cost of clean up from industry to the taxpayer.

     Some examples Mr. Chairman:

     Responsible parties do cleanups at about 60 sites a year. Of those, about 35 a year are worked out on a cooperative basis.

     The final agreement is merely recorded in federal district court. There is no adversarial United States vs. Anybody on file with the court. And that's the way we like to do it.

     Under this bill, we would be forced to file suit in federal court before we could even begin negotiations -- even if it was a one-party site, or even if the parties want to cooperate. On top of that, parties could sue EPA during each step of the clean-up process. That can be four or five steps per site, per interested party.

     This change encourages litigation and slows the clean-up process -- which is what I believe we all expressly want to avoid.

     There are also a number of things in the bill we find puzzling. There are language changes to the existing law that we assume are designed to solve a problem. But we don't know what the problem is -- or whose it is.

     Without this kind of a clear understanding, we might be introducing unintended consequences into the law that could be bad for the health of our families and our communities -- and unfair to the taxpayer.  Plus, each change could erase present court rulings and force us all back into federal court for a judge to decide what was intended.

     Finally, this bill makes changes to the original intent of the Superfund Toxic Waste cleanup law from polluter pays to polluter walks. This Administration holds firm in its belief that the polluter should be held responsible for the cost of cleaning up the toxic waste it caused.

     For instance, the exemption for household waste has been expanded so broadly that just about anybody -- who sent any waste -- anywhere -- can argue they have no liability. You can be a waste hauling or disposal company who should have known better, and you're still exempt.

     Also, the innocent owner exemption is expanded to include owners who knowingly bought a contaminated site and got it at a reduced price. This can be a windfall for the new owner who will get the taxpayer-sponsored gift of a clean property with increased value.

     Mr. Chairman, EPA has fundamentally changed how the Superfund program operates through three rounds of administrative reforms.  Since 1996, we have increased the number of Superfund sites with cleanup construction completed from 65 to 85 per year.  More than 89 percent of Superfund sites are either complete or are undergoing construction.

     To date, EPA has 599 sites that are construction complete. An additional 464 sites have cleanup construction underway. And, an additional 208 sites have had or are undergoing removal cleanup action.

     We expect to have more than 85 percent of NPL site constructions complete by the year 2005 --that's more than 1180 Superfund sites completed.

     Mr. Chairman, we don't need a comprehensive Superfund bill. There are some simple and common-sense changes that we think will make the law better and fairer and I am prepared to discuss them with you today.

     Mr. Chairman, it's just like a car. Sometimes your engine needs a complete overhaul. But sometimes you just need to tinker under the hood. This is one of those times were a little tinkering under the hood will give maximum performance to a vehicle that is in otherwise fine shape.

     Thank you Mr. Chairman. That concludes my prepared remarks. I am now ready to take your questions.