Statement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
July 31, 2002
Thank you, Madame Chairwoman.
The release of the EPA IG’s report last month once again has raised questions and concerns regarding the status and the future of the Superfund program – or, as I have already said, what I believe we will soon be calling the “Not-So-Super-Fund.”
According to the IG’s letter to Congressman Dingell, at the time the report was issued, EPA had appropriated only half of what was requested by its regional offices for cleanups at Superfund sites across the country.
Unfortunately, this left a number of sites, including a site in the Village of Sidney in New York State, without the necessary funding.
Since the IG’s report has been issued, EPA has made additional allocations of funds, including $2.5 of the $4 million requested for the GCL Tie and Treating site in Sidney, New York.
But many questions still remain about how EPA is handling the program, and what the Administration’s plans and goals are for the program.
And additional questions flow from an article in today’s New York Times, in which the State of Florida is being given an I.O.U. by EPA for a site cleanup, because the Agency doesn’t have the needed funds, and that lack of funding is slowing down cleanup.
With one out of every four people in this country living within a mile of a Superfund site, we simply cannot afford to scrimp on this program.
Yet the Bush Administration is reported to be presiding over a more than 50 percent decline in the pace of cleanups, although I know that Assistant Administrator Horinko will rebut this claim in her testimony.
To date, the Administration has been unwilling to acknowledge that any particular sites would be affected by a slowdown in cleanups and a lack of adequate resources in the Super Fund.
They have also refused to request a reauthorization of the polluter pays tax, which has traditionally been used to fund Superfund site cleanups.
The Superfund Trust Fund was established for the specific purpose of funding cleanups, so that the polluters and not the American taxpayer would be footing the bill.
But when the taxes that supported the Fund expired in 1995 and Congress refused to reauthorize them, the Fund began to run dry.
Next year, more than half of the money requested by the Administration for Superfund cleanups would come from taxpayers, not polluters. And by FY04, there will be no money left in the Fund at all.
That is why I have joined with Senators Boxer and Chafee on their legislation to reauthorize the Superfund tax and reinstate the polluter-pays principle.
I was pleased to read an opinion piece published earlier this month in the New York Times in which EPA Administrator Whitman stated, “the President and I both believe strongly in the principle that ‘the polluter pays.’ Whenever my agency can determine who polluted a site, we hold that polluter responsible for the full cost of the cleanup.”
I thought, “Great. We’re all on the same page here.”
And I know that Assistant Administrator Horinko will reiterate the Administration’s “strong commitment” to the polluter pays principle in her testimony today.
So I was a bit surprised when in a consent order issued last week, EPA only required GE to pay $5 million of a $37 million tab for past costs associated with the Hudson River site cleanup.
A special notice letter of February 4, 2002, issued to GE read, “Demand is hereby made for reimbursement of the balance of EPA’s and DOJ’s unreimbursed past costs, $36, 967,290.72, plus interest.”
Yet the order issued last week only requires $5 million in partial reimbursement, and it caps reimbursement for all Future Response Costs paid by EPA at $2.625 million. Keep in mind, the overall cost of the project is estimated at $460 million.
So I guess I’m just a bit confused. I understand that EPA has reserved its right to recoup additional reimbursement in the future, but I’m wondering what we’re waiting for.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We were all pleased to see the order issued and the process moving forward – particularly since this means that we will get some sampling in the Hudson completed this year.
But there are concerns that the order took too long, and that it is only for sampling. The order does not address other aspects of the remedial design, not to mention remedial actions. As such, EPA's order is just a very small step forward.
And this is just one site in New York – albeit a very large and significant site. But we have plenty of others, unfortunately. In fact, New York is fourth in the country in terms of the number of Superfund sites.
This is an issue of particular importance to New York and New Yorkers. We need to ensure that the communities that are plagued by these hazardous waste sites get the assistance and protection they so desperately need and deserve.
And as we will hear from the EPA IG today, the impact of insufficient resources for this program will be “causing delays or preventing important work needed to protect human health and the environment.”
We simply cannot let that happen. And that is why we are here today holding this hearing.