Mr. Chairman, I welcome this opportunity to hear from the administration and a cross section of stakeholders on the reauthorization of the national hazardous waste clean up law, known as Superfund. As you know, this is a program of great importance to my state of New Jersey, and to innumerable communities across the country. 73 million Americans live near toxic waste sites. That is about one in every four of our citizens.
Although it is difficult to say precisely how dangerous there sites are, recent data from the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry are troubling. For example, some studies found that in all but one of New Jersey's 21 counties, cancer rates in areas around hazardous waste sites exceeded the national average. Studies from other parts of the country also suggest that those living near toxic waste sites suffer disproportionately from serious health problems.
Beyond their adverse health effects, hazardous waste sites often have serious negative economic effects on our cities and neighborhoods. If we don't clean these sites up, we will deprive communities of good jobs and needed local tax revenues.
Unfortunately, the Superfund program got off to a slow start. However, in recent years, the program has turned around. Under the Clinton Administration, toxic waste cleanups have been 20% faster and 25% cheaper. We have seen real progress in cleaning up sites, as well as an increased emphasis on fairness to settling parties.
Still, all of us here today are trying to help make the system work better yet. We would like very much to speed cleanups, to reduce unnecessary litigation, and make the program work more fairly and efficiently.
I am especially eager to hear from our witnesses about the various administrative reforms that have been implemented in the program. Many criticisms of Superfund address problems that existed long ago. In fact, I used to be a leading critic of the program.
However, today's program has changed considerably, thanks largely to improvements begun by Administrator Reilly and a broad range of significant new reforms developed by Administrator Browner. EPA's reform efforts have led to a Superfund program that is much faster, fairer, and more efficient than it was four years ago, when these reauthorization efforts started. We need to build on those reforms, rather than addressing problems that no longer exist.
During the last Congress, Senators Smith, Chafee, Baucus and I spent countless hours, along with the Administration, trying to resolve our differences. I remain committed to a process that will improve Superfund, and produce a bipartisan bill that deserves the President's signature. I am hopeful we will succeed. We have made some significant process in certain areas, and have faith that this will continue.
At the same time, I am deeply concerned about some of the provisions in S. 8 that would dramatically reduce the responsibility of many polluters. For example, S. 8 relieves from liability generators of industrially-derived hazardous wastes if they were savvy enough to have buried their waste at a landfill that also accepted ordinary household trash. In other words, the companies who elected to use midnight dumpers will profit. Responsible industrial generators, who paid a higher price to dispose of their wastes at industrial landfills, will continue to be enmeshed in Superfund's liability scheme. This makes Superfund more unfair, not less.
I am also concerned that S.8 fails to adequately protect the safety of our drinking water because it fails to require that groundwater be cleaned up. The bill also repeals an existing preference for cleaning up the pollution to protect future generations and the environment. Instead, S.8 would allow the materials to remain at sites, so long as there is a fence around them, even if the materials continue to pose health risks.
In addition, I am very concerned about the broad authority granted to states without a showing that they have the technical and financial capacity to adequately protect public health and the environment.
To help us explore these issues, I look forward to the comments today of Carol Browner and all the witnesses, in particular the two witnesses from New Jersey. Robert Spiegel will explain the importance of community participation in Superfund decision making. His experience at the CIC site in New Jersey shows the benefits and savings that can be achieved if the community is part of the process. I also want to welcome one of the leading state managers of hazardous waste clean up, Rich Gimello, who operates the hazardous clean up program in New Jersey and today is representing Governor Whitman and the National Governors Association.