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Superfund 20th Anniversary Philadelphia, PA

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency

Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Superfund 20th Anniversary
Philadelphia, PA
Dec. 7, 2000

Good morning.

I want to thank Elliott Laws, my former colleague, for that introduction and thank so many of my EPA colleagues and Superfund partners for joining us here today to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Superfund.

You know, in The Tempest, Shakespeare wrote: “What’s past is prologue. What’s to come is in our discharge.”

In effect, what Shakespeare said is that what we’ve done in the past may set the stage for the future. But what we do in the present is what scripts the scene. Nothing is foretold. And no options are foreclosed.

I’m proud to be surrounded by so many of those who, through their tireless efforts, have helped set the stage for the environmental and public health protections we enjoy today.

I want to thank Region III Administrator Brad Campbell and former Regional Administrator, and presently my Deputy Administrator, Mike McCabe, for all their hard work.

I want to again thank Elliot, former Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response -- which oversees Superfund -- for all his service.

And I want to give special thanks to my friend and colleague Tim Fields -- the current Assistant Administrator for OSWER. Tim has spent 30 years in service to the environment and protecting the health of our families -- and there is no calling more noble than that in public service.

I want to thank Tim for making Superfund was it is today.

I also would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Steve Herman the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA.

The enforcement component is vital to the success of Superfund. Steve and his staff have also committed great service to this program. I also want to thank Steve for his 30 years of commitment to public service.

And, of course, I also want to give special thanks to the father of Superfund, former Congressman and New Jersey Governor Jim Florio, who I will have the pleasure of introducing shortly.

Again: “What’s past is prologue. What’s to come is in our discharge.”

In terms of the environment, that means while we can celebrate our achievements, we need to be constantly looking ahead to the problems that loom out on the horizon and be ready to act now before they become a crisis.

I think it’s important to remember that almost all our major environmental laws were born out of crisis.

When our waterways were so polluted one actually caught fire, we passed the Clean Water Act.

When our cities were hidden in shrouds of dirty air, we passed the Clean Air Act.

And 20 years ago, when we had to entire evacuate towns -- like Love Canal, New York – because hazardous waste from abandoned industrial sites were leaching out of their burial sites and polluting the land . . . the water . . . and threatening the health of thousands of families, we passed Superfund.

Remember Love Canal?

It was an incredibly toxic 70-acre site. Between 1942 to 1952, a chemical company had used the site as a dumping ground for about 21,000 tons of toxic industrial chemicals. When the company was through using the site, they covered it over and deeded it to the Niagra Falls Board of Education.

Schools and houses were later built over the dump -- the families not suspecting the poisons that lay underneath. But starting in the 1960s -- and then accelerating in the 1970s -- contaminated water started spreading into the drinking water system that served 77,000 people.

This toxic brew even started rising to the surface, where children could splash around in its polluted puddles.

At the time, there was nothing the federal government could do but declare Love Canal a disaster area. There was no federal law that anticipated a situation like this.

Thanks to the hard work of Congressional leaders like Governor Florio – and one of my predecessors at EPA, former Administrator Doug Costle – Superfund was enacted into law on Dec. 11, 1980.

We’ve come a long way since then.

Just last week, I visited the site of the 750th Superfund completion – a place called Pepe’s Field, in the Governor’s home state of New Jersey.

What I saw was amazing. When I had visited the site just two years before, it was still an abandoned dump site that threatened the health of the families around it.

Now it is a community park and a ballfield. What a transformation! Instead of posing a danger to the health of this community, this three-acre site can now be a center for this community’s spirit.

There are similar success stories across the nation. And again, I thank everyone in this room who helped make this possible.

But Superfund is more than just restoring life back into these abandoned properties -- and bringing hope to these once haunted communities.

Superfund has brought about many other changes as well.

First, it has prevented countless acts of pollution because the business and industrial communities know the core philosophy of Superfund is “polluter pays” and they will be held liable.

In fact, during the past eight years of this Administration, $2 billion has been returned to the Treasury by polluters to pay for Superfund cleanups. That’s almost 80 percent of what has been collected during the entire history of the program.

Superfund has also led to fresh scientific research and technological breakthroughs on how better to handle toxic waste.

Twenty years ago, there were few tested remedies and almost no information on the performance of hazardous waste cleanup. To clean up a site we either burned the contaminated material, immobilized it in cement, or dug it up and put it into a landfill.

New technologies, such as heating the soil to vaporize contaminants and capture them; introducing microorganisms that digest the pollutants, or sweeping contaminants out of the ground by reduced air flow were all first tested at Superfund sites.

And many of these innovations are creating new businesses and skilled workers that are in demand both in this country and overseas.

Yes, the Superfund program has evolved over the past 20 years, under four Presidents of both parties.

And I’m proud of reforms this Administration made under its watch to make Superfund work even more efficiently and fairly.

When the Clinton Administration came to office in January 1993, the Superfund program had completed cleanup activities at just 155 sites and the program was under fire for being too costly, too slow and too subject to endless litigation.

Without any new legislation . . . by just streamlining our existing regulations . . . we have made Superfund faster and fairer for everyone involved. And the result: Three times more sites restored than in the previous 12 years of the program.

To all my colleagues at EPA, I just want to say: “Thank you for all your hard work that got us here. It has been a privilege to work with you these past nearly eight years.”

But again: “What’s past is prologue. What’s to come is in our discharge.” Let’s not wrest on our past successes. Let’s work every day with an eye towards the future . . . an eye towards the horizon . . . an eye toward spotting our environmental problems and solving them before they become crises.

There are some out there who think the job of Superfund is finished. I think that’s wrong. We must continue to improve the program. We must continue to make it more efficient.

But it must continue. It must be given the financial . . . and political . . . resources it needs. To end it now would almost certainly guarantee new problems . . . new crises . . . for generations still to come.

As Jim Florio did 20 years ago when he fought for Superfund, we need to look to the horizon and beyond, because that is where the solutions to our new challenges lie.

As our reach should exceed our grasp, so must our vision extend beyond plain view.

And now it’s my privilege to introduce former Congressman and former New Jersey Governor, Jim Florio.

Progress -- especially on behalf of the environment -- doesn’t come to us in gentle whispers and a soft tap on the shoulder. It needs a strong voice and firm hand to push it along . . . and get results.

Jim Florio has been that strong voice and firm hand on behalf of the environment and so many other issues.

And he got results

As the sole House sponsor of Superfund, then Congressman Florio fought for three and a half years before he finally saw his work -- this landmark piece of legislation -- become law.

Isaac Newton once said: “If I have been able to see further, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

Governor, you are one of our nation’s environmental giants who stood tall and helped us see a little bit further . . . who helped us look beyond the horizon and bring ideas and solutions into focus that were otherwise hidden from view.

Everyone in this room – and families across our nation – owe you a debt of thanks.

Governor Florio.