SENATOR BARBARA BOXER
STATEMENT
Environment and Public Works Subcommittee
Hearing on Superfund Reform Legislation
Wednesday, March 5, 1997.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing today to continue discussions toward meaningful reform of the Superfund program. I am hopeful that your dedication, and the hard work of Senator Lautenberg and other members of this subcommittee, will make Superfund reform a reality this session.

I ask that my full statement be placed in the record.

Mr. Chairman, as you know, Superfund is one of the most important environmental laws for the people of California. California has ninety-six Superfund sites, the third highest number of any state, and seven Natural Resource Damage sites, more than any other state. Over forty percent of Californians live within four miles of a Superfund site.

Superfund helps protect the health and environment of millions of Californians by addressing some of the most contaminated sites in my state. An example is the Montrose Chemical Corporation Site (that contaminated with DDTs and PCBs four different groundwater aquifers, two of which are a source of drinking water. Another is the Purity Oil Sales Site in Fresno, where the soil is contaminated with lead. This was an area where the children of migrant farm workers regularly played.

Clearly we need to fix the problems with Superfund, but I am concerned that the proposal before us does not adequately reflect fundamental principles that I believe need to be the basis for reform.

We need reform that will streamline the Superfund process, speed-up cleanups at Superfund sites, and help eliminate unnecessary litigation without compromising the principles of "polluter pays" and "putting public health and safety first".

Provisions such as the reopening of Records of Decision (ROD's) seem to go against the concept of streamlining and speeding up cleanups. If ROD's are reopened, the over 46 sites (48 percent of California National Priority List superfund sites) that have a final ROD in place could face ROD petitions that would stop all ongoing cleanup efforts pending review.

If ROD's were reopened, the San Gabriel accord (which was signed in March 1994) would be undermined. The ground water aquifer underlying the San Gabriel Valley is one of the most complex and contaminated Superfund sites in the country. The site has been on the Superfund list since 1984. Over 10,000 businesses and other parties potentially share liability for this problem. It is a truly unique site that is being successfully worked on by PRP's, EPA and the State of California.

At the Baldwin Park site in San Gabriel Valley, a reopening of the ROD could result in an additional year plus $800,000 to redo the documentation. The San Gabriel Valley Water Quality Authority has estimated that the delays in cleanup would add $25 million to the cost of treatment because of further spread of contamination during the delay.

The ground water aquifer underlying the San Gabriel Valley is one of the most complex and contaminated Superfund sites in the country. The site has been on the Superfund list since 1984. Over 10,000 businesses and other parties potentially share liability for this problem. It is a truly unique site that is being successfully worked on by PRP's, EPA and the State of California.

Mr. Chairman, the goal of minimizing the cost of cleanup is a sound one, but I believe that cost should come into consideration only after we agree to certain cleanup standards and remedies that have been selected on the basis of public health and safety. Provisions in the bill emphasize cost savings over public health and environmental restoration.

I believe that if we mandate that selection of cleanup remedies be dictated by cost considerations, it will inevitably lead to cleanups that are less protective of the public health. Putting cost first will in effect shift our emphasis away from cleanup toward less expensive short term containment strategies. We will in effect be putting the burden of cleanup on future generations.

On the issue of remedy selection, I would also like to emphasize my concern with provisions in the bill which could limit EPA's ability to protect children and other sensitive subpopulations. This could lead to the selection of cleanup remedies that overlook the fact that children are more susceptible and more at risk from exposure. Cleanups and even containment strategies might not be protective of our children's health and safety.

Mr. Chairman, our liability scheme in Superfund must reflect the "polluter pays" principle. This principle has been very successful in requiring polluters to pay for cleanup. It has helped recast a corporate mind-set that once saw the careless dumping of toxic waste as every day business-as-usual and has acted to deter careless disposal and encourage pollution prevention.

The bill before us contains very broad liability exemptions that will in effect remove cleanup responsibility from polluters and place the burden on States and taxpayers. I believe that the goals of the Superfund program can best be achieved with a sound liability scheme and an effective funding mechanism to pay for cleanups.

Another concern I have with the bill is the provision that would not allow the States to enforce their own stricter cleanup standards and recover costs from Potential Responsible Parties. The preemption of California's ability to apply stricter cleanup standards would mean that, in the case of the Baldwin Park site, the State of California would have to pay an additional $5 million in capital and $20 million in operation and maintenance costs to bridge the gap between federal and state drinking water standards.

One other concern I want to briefly mention is the bill's provisions on groundwater cleanup which I believe would jeopardize groundwater safety. Groundwater cleanup issues are of major concern to California. Ninety two percent of the sites in California involve ground water contamination. Most (81%) NPL sites are in residential areas. At least 3.2 million people get their drinking water from aquifers over which a site is located.

The bill before us only requires the selection of cleanup remedies that will "prevent or eliminate any actual human ingestion of contaminated drinking water". The most cost effective strategy might be to put a filter on a tap or simply provide bottled water -- delaying any cleanup and allowing contaminated ground water to spread or go unchecked.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to express my concerns. I look forward to continued work with you to achieve meaningful reform and would like to extend a warm welcome to Administrator Browner and all of today's witnesses.