Bush slashing Superfund aid

Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE The New York Times WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has designated 33 toxic waste sites in 18 states for cuts in funding under the Superfund cleanup program, according to a new report to Congress by the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The cuts, imposed because the cleanup fund is hundreds of millions of dollars short of the amount needed to keep the program on schedule, mean that work is likely to grind to a halt on some of the most seriously polluted sites in the country, confronting the surrounding communities with new uncertainty over when the work will resume, how quickly it will proceed and who will pay for it.
Among the sites that for now would receive less money - and in some cases, no money - are a manufacturing plant in Edison, N.J., where the herbicide Agent Orange was produced, several chemical plants in Florida and two old mines in Montana. The report to Congress is the first public listing by the environmental agency of where it intends to cut Superfund spending. It was provided to The New York Times by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who oppose the cuts.
The administration had already indicated it would scale back spending from the special fund that pays for cleaning up sites where the original polluter has gone out of business or is otherwise unable to pay for remediation. The fund has been running out of money since Congress refused several years ago to extend the taxes on industry that had replenished it each year. It once contained billions of dollars from those taxes.
The administration wants to reduce the payments from the fund by covering fewer sites. To do that it would shift the costs of further work to the government's general accounts, paid for by all taxpayers. Congressional critics have said this amounts to abandoning the precept that "the polluter pays," on which the Superfund program was founded.
While Congress theoretically could override the administration's plan and impose a different approach, Congress has failed in past years to resolve bitter, often partisan, differences among lawmakers on how to revamp the program, and no consensus on it has emerged this year.
Regional offices of the environmental agency had asked for $450 million for remedial action at the 33 sites, but the administration has allocated only $228 million, the inspector general's report says.
Like all sites covered by the Superfund program, the 33 that are targeted for reductions are among the most contaminated grounds in the country and pose some level of health and environmental hazards to their communities. The documents provided by the inspector general did not indicate how these sites were chosen for cuts.
The report makes clear that under the administration's approach the costs of cleaning up these sites would eventually shift to all taxpayers and that in the meantime the whole program would be slowed down.
It also shows that the administration is putting less money into continuing 54 long-term remediation projects around the country. Regional offices of the Environmental Protection Agency had requested $46.7 million, but the administration is giving them $33.2 million.
Two congressional Democrats, Reps. John D. Dingell of Michigan and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, asked the environmental agency's inspector general for the report in April and provided a copy to The New York Times. Both represent states with heavy concentrations of Superfund sites.
SUPERFUND on Page 5A Continued from 1A SUPERFUND: Money is drying up The 33 sites that are targeted for reductions are among the most contaminated grounds in the country and pose some level of health and environmental hazards to their communities.

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