Statement of James M. Jeffords, I-Vt.
Superfund Subcommittee Hearing
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. Superfund has successfully cleaned up thousands of toxic waste sites and protected the health of millions of Americans. Thousands of communities have benefited from short-term removal actions, and remedies have been constructed at about 665 of the most contaminated sites in the nation. In addition, fear of Superfund liability has prompted corporate America to minimize its toxic waste generation and take extra care to prevent waste mishandling. The nation is healthier as a result. Yet, our work is not done. Even today, the EPA estimates that one in four Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site. Approximately 600 sites remain on the National Priorities List, with over 100 having “human exposure not under control.” Let me highlight four issues that must be confronted to ensure that the Superfund program is effective in protecting public health. First, we must fully fund Superfund, which has been on life support in recent years. In real dollars, the program is operating with about 35 percent less money than it had in 1993. The result of chronic underfunding is less cleanup. In Vermont alone, we have three sites that have languished for years on the National Priorities List due to insufficient funds. In this tight budget climate, the only way to fully fund the Superfund program is to reinstate the “polluter pays” fees. Second, we must make sure that companies that handle hazardous substances set aside enough money to meet their cleanup obligations before they cease operating. The EPA has yet to issue the regulations required in 1980 to address this problem. Third, a GAO Report I requested last year found that 83 percent of recent Superfund remedies were designed to leave residual contamination in place. Yet, the report found that controls to minimize future exposure to this contamination were rarely properly implemented, monitored, or enforced. If the EPA cannot resolve this problem, cleanups at thousands of sites will need to be revisited. Finally, the US Supreme Court ruled last year that parties liable under Superfund cannot sue other liable parties for contribution unless they themselves have been sued by the government. The result of this ruling is confusion and, I fear, fewer voluntary cleanups. A wide range of stakeholders, including major corporations, environmental groups, and the National Governors Association have called on Congress to overturn this decision. I hope we are able to do so before this Congress adjourns. Again, I thank the Chairman for holding this hearing.