Costle Presses for Immediate Passage of Superfund

[EPA press release - September 11, 1980]

EPA Administrator Douglas M. Costle warned today, in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, that time was running out for the passage of " of the most badly needed pieces of environmental legislation of the decade."

Superfund, as proposed by President Carter in June, 1979, would provide funds to help clean up thousands of abandoned hazardous waste dump sites across the country, many of which pose a threat to nearby populations. In addition, it would fund immediate clean-up of the nearly 14,000 spills of oil and hazardous substances into our waterways and on land which occur each year.

"The situation concerning hazardous waste disposal sites is grim," said Costle. "The past few years have brought to public attention an unforgettable series of incidents resulting from improper hazardous waste management--the continuing tragedy of Love Canal, the pollution of the water supply of over 300,000 people in Iowa, and the discovery of up to 20,000 to 30,000 discarded and leaking barrels of chemical wastes in the "Valley of the Drums" in Kentucky. In 1979, EPA estimated the number of hazardous waste sites to range between 32,000 and 50,000, and the number of sites posing a significant health or environmental problem to be between 1,200 and 2,000.

"A recent and incomplete EPA survey of 250 hazardous waste disposal sites found 32 sites where 452 drinking water wells had to be closed because of chemical contamination, 130 sites where water supplies and groundwaters had been contaminated but wells have not been closed, 27 sites with actual damages to human health (kidneys, cancer, mutations, aborted pregnancies, etc.), 41 sites where soil contamination made the land unfit for livestock or human uses, and at least 36 sites where income loss could be expected as a result of loss of livestock, fish kills, crop damage and similar losses," said Costle.

"Of some 1,000 sites investigated to date, we have found more than 250 that need remedial action. We still have more than 6,000 candidate sites to investigate, and we are becoming aware of about 200 more every month. In July alone, we learned of 671 more. This legacy of many years of uncontrolled hazardous waste disposal may well be the most serious environmental problem facing the nation today.

"Existing legal authorities are inadequate to deal with these problems in many ways."

Superfund would be funded by a small non-inflationary fee on various segments of the petrochemical industry. "This feedstock approach would impose fees or taxes at the beginning of the commercial chain of production, distribution, consumption, transportation, and disposal of hazardous substances," said Costle. "It would do this by assessing 11 primary petrochemicals, 34 inorganic raw materials, and crude oil produced domestically, imported, or exported. These 46 substances are either hazardous themselves or they are the basic building blocks used to generate all major inorganic and synthetic organic hazardous products and wastes.

"The feedstock system distributes costs broadly, evenly, and efficiently among all those who produce and consume hazardous substances and generate hazardous wastes. It can be implemented quickly and with much less red tape than other options. It would involve fewer than 700 companies and just 46 substances, instead of hundreds of thousands of firms and hundreds of substances as in other options.

"We felt and feel strongly that funding for the program should come and broadly as possible from those segments of industry which are the most responsible for imposing risks on society and have the greatest knowledge of and control over these risks and received the greatest direct economic benefits."

As a final note, Costle pointed out that Superfund is "the only major environmental legislation for years which does not establish a new regulatory regime or impose new structures and rules on the nation at large. It imposes costs and comes into play only where there is a specific problem.

"Finally," said Costle to the Committee, "I cannot emphasize enough that time is of the essence if legislation is to be passed during this Congress, and personally and on behalf of the Administration, I urge you strongly to complete any action you may take as quickly after this hearing as possible. Existing statutes and programs are completely overwhelmed by the problem facing us daily from oil and hazardous substance spills and releases from hazardous waste sites. The public desperately needs the relief offered by Superfund."