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Superfund in the 106th Congress

August 2000

Citation: 30 ELR 10648

Issue: 8

Author: Charles Openchowski

By the beginning of the 106th Congress, comprehensive legislative reform of the Superfund statute had consumed six fruitless years of effort. Adopting a new approach, the Administration decided to seek narrow, targeted legislation. In testimony that would be repeated several times in 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressed support for specific legislative authority to continue its ongoing brownfields program, provide a limited number of liability clarifications that would further enhance remediation of brownfields sites, and reinstate the industry taxes designed to underwrite in large part the federal cleanup program.

This shift in position was prompted by a number of events. Administrative reforms initiated by EPA in the mid-1990s were responsible for significant improvements in the pace of cleanup and had tempered criticism of the program's fairness and performance. Also, with the passage of time, the cleanup program had advanced to a point where the vast majority of priority sites were already being addressed under the existing statutory and regulatory framework, so that significant legislative changes had the potential to cause serious implementation delays and a new round of high transaction costs. Finally, broader efforts to reauthorize the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) had failed repeatedly due to deep-rooted differences of opinion in Congress and among private-party stakeholders over the correct direction the program should take. In the tense, polarized political climate of early 1999, it seemed unlikely that there could be a bipartisan consensus that would bring Capitol Hill and the White House together on a wide-ranging reauthorization bill containing complex issues that had been so controversial for so long.

Mr. Openchowski is a senior attorney in the Office of General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). His first ELR Dialogue, Bankruptcy Is Not an Answer: A Rebuttal, was published in 1985 (15 ELR 10314 (Oct. 1985)). His most recent, A Shorter, Simpler Approach to Superfund Reauthorization, appeared in 1997 (27 ELR 10357 (July 1997)). The views expressed in this Dialogue are those of the author and do not represent the views of any federal agency or department.

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