Nearly everyone agrees the current Superfund law is broken and changes need to be made. Unfortunately, the consensus doesn't last much past that statement. A program designed in 1980 to clean up hazardous waste sites has cost us over $30 billion and we've cleaned up less than one-quarter of the over 1300 sites on the National Priorities List (NPL). More disappointing than the lack of progress is the fact that by some estimates, less than half the money spent goes to actual clean up. So the lawyers line their pockets while the vast majority of Superfund sites see little progress. The bottom line is that the current system doesn't protect the environment or preserve the health and safety of future generations.
There are several changes Congress must make to the current law if we are to achieve our goal of protecting public health: provide a common sense approach to cleanups, control costs, reform the liability system, accelerate cleanups, increase state and public participation in the process, and address Natural Resource Damages (NRD). S. 8 moves us toward achieving those goals.
S. 8 injects some common sense into the cleanup program by allowing cost-effective remedies that protect human health and the environment, including groundwater. It takes the future use of the site into account when selecting the cleanup remedy. In addition, the current rigid statutory preferences for permanence will be replaced with flexibility to allow consideration of all cleanup options based on several important factors. These provisions will help accelerate cleanups and control costs.
If there's one area of the current law that has driven much of the public outrage over Superfund, it is the liability system. All across the country, and in my state of Wyoming, small business owners who sent a tiny amount of waste to an eventual Superfund site are drawn into the costly litigation process. Remarkably, the system of liability puts every potential party on an equal liability footing, so even though a small businessman may have only contributed a small amount of contaminant, he's on the hook for the full amount of the cleanup, just like the major contributors to the site. S. 8 addresses this concern by eliminating liability for small businesses, parties that contributed extremely small amounts of waste, and religious and charitable groups among others. It also proposes a "fair share" allocation process for multiparty sites. These changes will dramatically reduce the litigation costs associated with Superfund.
I regard NRD as the `sleeping giant" of the Superfund program. This is a program that is just beginning to develop, and it's clear trustees -- states, the federal government and Indian tribes will use this portion of the law to file huge claims against companies for questionable "values" of the lost use and non-use of natural resources. I'm concerned that reforming the Superfund
clean up program without addressing the NRD portion of the law will only move our problems with the current law from one portion of the program to another. I am pleased S. 8 addresses this concern by eliminating non-use and lost use damages for pre-1980 activities.
The opponents of Superfund reform like to talk about making the "polluter pay." The fact is, however, that the federal government is the single biggest "polluter" in this country. There are over 155 federal Superfund sites, there's even one in my state of Wyoming. These sites are some of the most complex and costly in the country. The inability to control costs, reform NRD and get cleanups done quickly result in additional liability to federal agencies, costs that are passed along to the American taxpayer. Therefore it is in everyone's interest that we pass substantial reform quickly.
I am sure we will hear from some of today's witnesses that the reforms the Clinton Administration has initiated have solved the problems with Superfund. I agree that they have made some improvements to the system. However, there remains a good deal of work to be done. Even with these reforms, there is too much litigation, cleanups cost too much and sites are not being cleaned up quickly. I encourage the administration to come to the table so we can work together to pass comprehensive legislation in order to truly reform Superfund.
S. 8 makes some very real improvements to the current mess. It's not perfect, but it takes us a step forward on resolving these contentious issues. S. 8 represents an excellent effort and I hope we can move forward very soon.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.