EPA needs more money, study says

Published September 1, 2001

After 20 years of often-controversial efforts to clean up environmental hazards, the Environmental Protection Agency requires more money for a host of current and future Superfund activities, concludes a Congressionally commissioned study by Resources For the Future (RFF).

“It’s just not realistic to think the costs of Superfund are going to decline much in the next 10 years,” stated Katherine Probst, coauthor of the study. “Though our study does not address whether or not the now-expired taxes that stocked the Trust Fund should be re-imposed, it’s clear there’s not enough money left to pay for 10 more years of EPA work.”

From Superfund’s inception through 1995, industries presumed to have been responsible for sites on the Superfund list were taxed roughly $1.3 billion per year to finance Superfund activities. In 1996 the tax was eliminated, and Superfund activities have since been financed by the pre-1996 surplus and general federal revenues.

The RFF study, Superfund’s Future: What Will It Cost? estimates Superfund activities will cost between $14 billion and $16 billion from fiscal years 2000 through 2009. Congress asked RFF to estimate future Superfund costs amid continuing debate over whether and how to reauthorize the program.

Opponents of reinstating the industry Superfund tax had hoped EPA revenue needs would decline as an increasing number of Superfund sites were cleaned up and removed from the list. However, the RFF report found that roughly half the sites listed as completed by the EPA in fact still had work to do. Moreover, 61 additional sites have been proposed for Superfund, and still more are being proposed every year.

“Clearly, EPA needs to improve the quality of the five-year review process and clarify just what it means to have a protective remedy,” the report stated. Similarly, “Congress needs to clarify the role and priorities of the National Priorities List,” said Probst.

“Currently, a wary truce exists between those who would leave [Superfund] liability and cleanup provisions intact and those who do not want to re-institute the authority for the taxes that filled the coffers of the trust fund,” the study reported.

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) agreed Congress is not inclined to have a large Superfund debate this year. “I don’t see the time or the politics to allow it this year. Given the stalemate, we will probably work on it piece by piece.”

For more information . . .

on the federal government’s Superfund program, search PolicyBot, The Heartland Institute’s free online research service. Forty-five documents there address Environment – Hazardous Waste and Superfund.