Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
Superfund Oversight Hearing
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, Risk, and Waste Management
Committee on Environment and Public Works
July 31, 2002
I commend Senator Boxer for conducting today's hearing on the Superfund program. Oversight of the Superfund program is a critical task for this Subcommittee.
Senator Boxer's efforts have the full support of this Committee. In fact, bipartisan concern over the pace of Superfund site cleanup was highlighted in a March 8 letter to EPA from Senators Smith, Chafee, Boxer and myself. Specifically, we wrote seeking information on the backlog of Superfund sites, which are ready to proceed but stalled by a lack of funding.
Unfortunately, EPA's response to date leaves many questions unanswered. What is the reason behind EPA's slowdown of the Superfund cleanup program? Is the Administration 's refusal to seek reauthorization of the Superfund taxes contributing to this slowdown? Is EPA headquarters providing the regions with the necessary guidance and support to ensure the Superfund program's success?
Here is what we do know:
First, the Superfund program is experiencing a slowdown in the annual number of toxic waste sites cleaned. From Fiscal Year 1997 through Fiscal Year 2000, an average of 85 sites per year were cleaned up. This year, 40 sites will be cleaned.
Second, the Superfund tax expired in 1995 and has not been reauthorized. As a result, the trust fund will only hold $28 million in fiscal year 2003.
Third, through the General Treasury, taxpayers have picked up the funding slack. Unfairly, I might add. Nonetheless, fewer sites are being cleaned despite constant funding for the Superfund program.
Fourth, the Regions are feeling the pinch. In an August 2001 Region 1 Conference call, the minutes noted: "Overall, based on the poll of the regions, it appears that we have approximately 52 sites that should be completed by the end of the Fiscal Year...for Fiscal Year 2002, there will not be enough funding to cover all of the projected needs and most new Remedial Actions starts could go unfunded."
One month before the end of the Fiscal Year, EPA was talking of cleaning 52 sites. The number actually cleaned was 47. What happened to the other 5 sites?
If a funding shortfall for Fiscal Year 2002 was widely anticipated, why didn't the Bush Administration request greater funding in its budget request?
The Bush Administration claims that the clean up slowdown is because EPA is tackling more complex sites, which is taking more time and resources. I find this hard to believe. After all, our cleanup technologies have vastly improved since the 1980 passage of Superfund. What could be more difficult to clean than Love Canal before the expertise we have today existed?
These questions need answers. I find the vacuum of information unacceptable. I do not wish to question the Bush Administration's dedication to the Superfund program. However, the conclusions of the Inspector General's Report furthers my concerns.
As Chairman of this Committee, I am committed to ensuring the integrity of the Superfund program. All Americans deserve clean soil and water. They should not have to worry about their children's health being affected by a former industrial site in their community. And they should not worry about when and how a toxic site is cleaned up. It is my mission to ensure that Superfund functions exactly as it was intended-to clean up toxic waste sites quickly and completely.
- 30 -