Statement of Senator Jon S. Corzine
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, Risk, and Waste Management
April 10, 2002
Thank you Madame Chairman. I want to thank you for holding this important hearing. I want to welcome my constituent Bob Spiegel to the hearing. I look forward to his testimony.
Superfund is the last line of defense for Americans who live near hazardous waste sites.
That’s certainly true in New Jersey, where our state’s industrial heritage has left us with more Superfund sites than any state in the nation.
During today’s hearing, Mr. Spiegel will testify about how important this program is at one of New Jersey’s 111 Superfund sites—I hope I will be able to secure a commitment from EPA today to start cleanup on that site, and I’ll have more to say about that later.
I think Mr. Spiegel’s testimony vividly illustrates how vital this program is to the people of my state and to Americans everywhere who find themselves living near a Superfund site.
The good news is that the program has been working well.
Since enactment in 1980, the Superfund program has matured, and has undergone both legislative and administrative changes.
Targeted reform bills—such as the brownfields bill that this committee reported out last year—have exempted small businesses, recyclers, innocent landowners, and other parties from Superfund liability. In addition, the Clinton administration made a series of administrative reforms to the program in the 1990s.
As a result of these reforms, the program has been working really well, averaging 86 cleanups a year over the last four years of the Clinton administration.
In light of all that progress, I think one the important questions we need to answer here today is why we have seen such a sudden and dramatic slowdown in cleanups in the last year.
I won’t repeat the statistics that Senator Boxer has already gone through in detail. But I will repeat the question: what is happening with the Superfund program?
By way of explanation, EPA has maintained that the remaining sites on the NPL are more complex, and therefore will take longer to clean up. I am skeptical about this claim, and EPA has not yet backed the claim up with data. We need to get to the bottom of this issue, and I call on EPA to provide Congress with all of the information that we have asked for.
Whatever the reason for the slowdown, it is clear that the second big question about the program is “who is going to pay for the cleanups in the future?”
A report commissioned by Congress concluded last year that “a rampdown of the Superfund program is not imminent,” and that current or higher levels of funding will be required through at least FY 2009.
Ironically, at the same time, we’re running out of money in the Superfund, which has been steadily dwindling since the Superfund tax expired in 1995. Since that time, the fund has dropped from a balance of $3.6 billion to an estimated $28 million in it at the end of the next year.
So starting next year, general taxpayers will be paying for nearly the entire Superfund program—which has cost about $1.3 billion per year in recent years.
Madame Chairman, I think that’s unfair. We need to restore the “polluter pays” principle by reinstating the Superfund tax. That way we will ensure that polluters—not general taxpayers—will pay for cleanups of sites where responsible parties can be found. And I would venture to guess that most of the sites left in the program are sites where we’re not going to find responsible parties to pay. That’s certainly the case in New Jersey, based on information provided to the committee by EPA.
So we need to reinstate the Superfund tax and reinvigorate the pace of cleanups under the program, regardless of the cause. The people of New Jersey and all Americans are counting on us. Thank you, Madame Chairman. I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.