STATEMENT OF CAROL
MARCH 5, 1997
CAROL M. BROWNER
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
MARCH 5, 1997
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Committee. I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you to describe the the Superfund program and discuss legislative reform of Superfund in the 105th Congress.
Superfund is an important, and above all, a necessary program, dedicated to cleaning up our nation's hazardous waste sites. EPA has worked closely with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in evaluating the impacts of these sites on public health. ATSDR studies show a variety of health effects that are associated with specific sites, including birth defects, cardiac disorders, changes in pulmonary function, impacts on the immune system (the body's natural defense system from disease and sickness), and increases in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. These findings support EPA risk estimates that show the impacts of these sites on public health. EPA also works with other federal agencies to assess the impacts of hazardous material releases on natural resources and the environment. Together, the efforts of these agencies, working with EPA, provide the basis for targeting cleanups to protect public health and the environment, and show the need for Superfund.
The Clinton Administration remains committed to responsible, Superfund legislative reform. We are also committed to participating in a process by which Republicans, Democrats, the Administration and a broad cross-section of stakeholder representatives work together to build consensus on the elements of Superfund legislative reform. As drafted, the Administration does not believe S.8 provides the basis for consensus based legislative reform. The Administration is ready to work with you to craft Superfund reform legislation that can attract broad consensus support. Only through a consensus based legislative process can we craft a proposal that is fully protective and delivers on our commitment to the American people to accelerate toxic waste cleanup. By developing a broad consensus based process, we believe we can achieve Superfund reform in the 105th Congress.
We are determined that our third try at legislative reform address today's Superfund program, not out of date problems now resolved. The Superfund program is fundamentally different and better. It is faster, fairer, and more efficient -- reality, not just rhetoric-- than when the legislative debate started four years ago. Responsible legislative reform must build upon initiatives and reforms that have brought about program improvements, and must address remaining legislative barriers to success with an eye toward the 21st Century, in which we can all hope to see less exposure from toxic waste sites for all Americans, and the return of these resources to productive reuse.
My purpose today is threefold: 1) to forge an understanding of where the Superfund program is today by sharing with you the substantial accomplishments EPA has achieved over the past few years, not only maintaining, but accelerating the pace of cleanup through three rounds of Administrative Reforms; 2) to discuss a vision and potential components for responsible Superfund legislative reform; and 3) to discuss our concerns with S.8, which fails to meet our principles for responsible, Superfund legislative reform in this Congress.
Finally, the Administration remains concerned over the expiration of the authority to replenish the Superfund Trust Fund. Without the availability of these funds, the Administration will be unable to continue cleaning up sites at the current pace, or guarantee our ability to respond to environmental threats.
A FUNDAMENTALLY BETTER SUPERFUND PROGRAM
Proof of a faster, fairer, more efficient Superfund program can be found in three simple indicators: first, We have completed cleanup at 423 sites on the National Priorities List, and 485 more are in construction. We have reduced by more than a year the average duration of the long-term cleanup process, with much faster cleanups at sites using presumptive remedies. The President's budget request for Fiscal Year 1998 allows us to establish a new cleanup goal of 900 completions by the end of the year 2000, representing approximately two-thirds of the sites on the NPL. Our most recent analysis make us optimistic that we can achieve our goal of a 20% reduction, or two years, in the total cleanup process time; and second, responsible parties are performing or funding approximately 75% of Superfund long-term cleanups, saving taxpayers more than $12 billion. Meanwhile, EPA has succeeded in removing over 14,000 small contributors from the liability system and has, in one year, offered orphan share compensation of more than $57 million to responsible parties willing to negotiate long-term cleanup settlements; and third, costs of cleanups, are decreasing because of a number of factors, including: the use of reasonably anticipated future land use determinations, which allow cleanups to be tailored to specific sites; the use of a phased approach or multiple approaches to ground water cleanups; EPA's current policy of concentrating on principle threats at sites, not the entire site; and EPA's 15 plus years of implementing the program provided greater efficiencies and lower costs when selecting cleanup options.
In addition, through the commitment of EPA, State, and Tribal site managers, and other Federal agencies, EPA has achieved real results for public health and the environment while experimenting with and instituting changes to our cleanup process through three rounds of Administrative Reforms. EPA is committed to further administrative and regulatory (including NCP) improvements in the Superfund program in the years ahead. Our objectives for administrative reforms have been to:
- Protect public health and the environment over the long-term, while lowering the cost of cleanups
- Increase the pace of cleanups
- Preserve the principle that parties responsible for contamination should be responsible for cleaning it up, while promoting fairness in the liability scheme, and reducing transaction costs and litigation
- Involve local communities, States, and Tribes in decision making
- Promote economic redevelopment at Superfund sites
The success of the Administrative reforms has been demonstrable. In a recent report, the Superfund Settlements Project (SSP), a private organization comprised of industry representatives, published in December 1996, acknowledges EPA's "substantial" track record "since EPA began implementing the October 2, 1995 administrative reforms...especially in light of the severe obstacles that EPA encountered during fiscal year 1996 as it began implementation of these reforms." These positive comments, from a group of large corporations involved in many Superfund cleanups, echo the Agency's recent Superfund Administrative Reforms Annual Report, for Fiscal Year 1996, which details specific program accomplishments.
Providing Protective Cleanups at Lower Costs
EPA has initiated a number of administrative reforms which promote cleanups that are technologically and scientifically sound, cost-effective and appropriately consistent. These reforms will lower cleanup costs, while assuring long-term protection of human health and the environment.
National Remedy Review Board
EPA has achieved significant success in creating substantial future cost reductions for parties at complex, high-cost Superfund sites across the country, by creating a national board of technical and policy experts within EPA to review high cost, long term cleanups. This newly established National Remedy Review Board, comprised of both Headquarters and Regional experts is providing targeted review of cleanup plans, prior to final remedy selection, without delaying the overall pace of cleanup. The Board's preliminary analysis indicates it has identified potential reductions in the range of $15-30 million in total estimated future costs for reviews completed during FY96.
Using Technology and Science Updates to Save Money
Approximately $280 million in future cost reductions are predicted as a result of the Agency's review and updates to previous remedy decisions made in the early years of the Superfund program. These early remedies were based on "state-of-the-knowledge-and-practice" available at the time. Where science and technology have advanced and adequate levels of public health and environmental protection are assured, EPA is revising remedies where future cost reductions can be achieved while still preserving appropriate levels of protection, and the current pace of the program.
Better Land Use Assumptions in Remedy Selection
EPA has improved its cleanup decisions by consistently using reasonable assumptions about current and future land use. Recognizing that land may be appropriate for uses other than residential use can yield a more realistic risk assessment and less expensive remedy. EPA is working with local land use planning authorities, other government officials and the public as early as possible during site investigation to develop reasonable land use assumptions to use in the decision making process. EPA also is making extra efforts to reach out to communities which may have environmental justice concerns to ensure that they are fully informed and able to participate in these decisions. Currently, about 60% of EPA's Records of Decision (RODs) include a land use scenario other than residential land use, typically where there is no residential land use on-site or adjacent to the site.
Setting Priorities for Cleanups
To ensure that available funds are directed to the highest priority response projects on a national basis, EPA established a National Risk-Based Priority Panel (Panel) in August 1995. Prior to this reform, individual Regions establi