I never intended to make Superfund the focus of my Senate career, but it is starting to seem that way.
During the 103rd Congress, we held eleven hearings and three days of mark up on Superfund reform. Last Congress, we held nine hearings. We've heard from a total of 161 witnesses, and compiled 4,490 pages of testimony.
Hopefully, today's hearing is the beginning of the end.
I'd like to make a couple of basic points.
First, Superfund is a very important environmental program. Love Canal was not some kind of a fluke. As our country industrialized, there was an unfortunate side effect: the creation of toxic waste sites that threaten public health and the environment.
There are at least 1,300 of these sites, all across the country. When state and local resources seemed inadequate to clean these sites up, Congress created the Superfund program to get the job done. And we were right to do so.
Second, Superfund has had its problems. The program got off to a terrible start. Some people went to jail.
Even after the initial problems were solved, cleanups were slow, paperwork piled up, and transaction costs were out of sight.
But things have changed. First under Bill Reilly, and now under Carol Browner, EPA has made significant improvements in the Superfund program.
As we will hear today from Administrator Browner, EPA has taken steps to accelerate cleanup, cut litigation, and improve the quality of cleanup. Many of those reforms seem to be working.
EPA has now cleaned up over 400 sites, begun work at more than 1,200 sites, and settled liability with 14,000 small parties. These are positive steps.
I believe that we can go even further. For example, support legislative changes to make cleanups more efficient. To reduce litigation and other transaction costs, especially for municipalities and small businesses. To enhance the state role.
I also believe that we have a good opportunity this Congress to produce a solid bipartisan Superfund bill that the President will sign.
But we are not there yet.
Clearly, S. 8 is better than where we started last Congress. The months of discussions and negotiations seem to have paid off. But a number of serious concerns remain.
Most importantly, the new bill includes changes that allow up to 600 existing cleanup agreements to be reopened, restudied and renegotiated. Undoing decisions that have already been agreed to will only delay cleanup and reopen old wounds.
It also includes changes that will dramatically reduce the amount of cleanup at some sites.
For example, it allows highly toxic wastes to remain untreated and left in place. And it requires groundwater to be cleaned up only if doing so will cost less than letting nature do the job or restricting the uses of that water.
It continues to prevent streams, wildlife habitats and other natural resources damaged from long-term pollution from being fully restored.
Finally, it exempts many large, viable companies from their responsibility to cleanup toxic dumps that they helped create. By exempting these companies, it puts the burden of paying for cleanup on the backs of the taxpayer.
The proposal would have a particularly harsh effect on my State of Montana. It would allow signed cleanup agreements to be reopened, thereby delaying cleanups in a dozen places throughout the state. And it would undermine efforts to restore the damage along the Clark Fork river.
I don't want to belabor this point. I've talked about it before, at some length. And the natural resource damage provisions of S. 8 contain some significant improvements over previous versions.
But let me just say this. The Clark Fork site is the largest Superfund site in the nation. The natural resource damage is massive. It stretches for 135 miles, from Butte up to Missoula.
The state of Montana filed a damage. claim seeking more than $700 million to restore the damaged resources. Montana has prosecuted this case vigorously, through Republican and Democratic administrations, for 13 years.
The case finally went to trial Monday.
Maybe we'll prove our case. Maybe we won't. That's for the court to decide. But, for my part, I will do everything in my power to prevent Congress from pulling the rug out from under Montana on the courthouse steps.
These and other remaining issues are serious. But they are not insurmountable. It is my hope, Mr. Chairman, that with a little more hard work, and the cooperation of the Administration, we can get a good bipartisan bill this year.