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Release Date: 7/12/2002
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      As the new regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for Region 8, I am responsible for a number of sites in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, North and South Dakota and on 27 Tribal Nations where public health is threatened or the natural environment is at risk. The worst of these are called Superfund sites. Like Libby, Montana, where vermiculite asbestos was mined and milled and spread throughout the town, causing high rates of respiratory disease and death from respiratory illnesses. In this case, EPA knows who is responsible. We are currently in the process of removing contaminated materials and cleaning up the polluted site.

Another example is the site in North Denver, known as Vasquez Boulevard/Interstate 70 (VB/I-70), where arsenic and lead in the soil pose potentially serious health risks for the people who live there. Recently, reports that EPA was cutting funding for cleanup at the VB/I-70 site and 32 other Superfund sites appeared in newspapers across the country including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe -- and the Denver Post.

No funding has been cut from the VB/I-70 project. Let me repeat that: no funding has been cut from the VB/I-70 project. Earlier this year, we requested cleanup construction money because we anticipated we would be ready to begin removing contaminated soil from yards in 2002. However, when it became clear that we would not be ready to begin construction this year, we notified EPA headquarters, and they put the project in the queue for funding next fiscal year.

It is true that a limited amount of money exists for cleanups and competition for these funds is stiff. This requires that funds be applied to sites where actual cleanup work is in progress or about to begin.

The Superfund cleanup construction program is constantly evolving, and funding decisions are made over the course of the entire year, not just at the beginning of the fiscal year. Some projects are scheduled to begin, but are delayed, freeing up money which is redirected to other work that is ready. Some projects don’t cost as much as originally thought, freeing up more money. And Congress reserves some funding to the end of the fiscal year to assure that projects remain on track.

That’s where the VB/I-70 project is -- on track to begin removal of soil next year. We will go back to EPA headquarters to obtain funding when we are ready to start construction.

There has also been some confusion regarding who pays for Superfund projects. Nationwide, cleanup of 70 percent of the Superfund sites is funded by the responsible parties that caused the problem in the first place, based on the principle that the “polluter pays.” However, there remain a number of “orphan” sites for which there is no party to pay cleanup costs, either because we cannot determine who caused the problem or because the responsible party is not economically viable. These “orphan” sites are cleaned up by a combination of taxes paid by certain industries and taxes paid by the American people. While the tax on industries was not renewed by Congress in 1995, Congress has appropriated a consistent amount of money each year to make sure that cleanups are carried out. The total amount of such funding has not diminished.

The VB/I-70 site may turn out to be an “orphan” site, but it has not been -- and will not be -- abandoned by EPA. We intend to complete the cleanup.