Several Superfund Sites Lose Funding

Work is likely to cease on some of the most polluted sites in the country, according to a new report to Congress by the Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Thirty-three toxic waste sites in 18 states have been selected by the Bush administration for cuts in financing under the Superfund cleanup program. The program is hundreds of millions of dollars short of the amount needed to stay on schedule.

The fund was created by Congress in 1980 and is based on the principle that it is the responsibility of those who pollute to pay for cleanup. The Superfund Trust pays for cleaning up "orphan sites," those where the original polluter has gone out of business or is otherwise unable to pay. At the height of the program, the fund reached approximately $3.8 billion. But for several years Congress did not extend the taxes the industry paid to sustain the program, and it has been running out of funds ever since.

Since its inception, 1,551 contaminated sites have been put on the National Superfund Priority List; 257 sites have been cleaned up and 552 have been partially or mostly decontaminated. In each of the previous four years, more than 80 sites were cleaned up. Last year, only 47 were cleaned up.

The administration wants to shift the cost of cleanup from the oil and chemical industry (which has been footing the bill) to general tax revenues, and reduce the cost by covering fewer sites.

Congressional critics have said this amounts to abandoning the precept that "the polluter pays," on which the Superfund program was founded, by making taxpayers bear the cost.

Regional EPA offices had also requested $46.7 million to go towards 54 long-term remediation projects around the country, but the administration is only giving them $33.2 million.

2001 Environmental Defense. Used with permission, www.environmentaldefense.org