The Superfund Is Now a Super-Letdown

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund may sound
impressive, but recent studies show that the program is incapable
of handling the toxic cleanup duties it was designed for. The fund
began in 1980 as a program to tax corporate polluters and pool the
money into one large ‘Superfund’ to pay for detoxifying sites
created by unknown or indigent polluters. The program soon
accumulated a sizable kitty with which to repair the country’s most
scarred lands. But now, thanks to years of neglect and
mismanagement, the money for the Superfund has run dry and left
hundreds of sites festering in toxic waste.

According to a series of recent reports by the
Center for Public Integrity (CPI), ‘nearly half
of the US population lives within 10 miles of one of the 1,304
active and proposed Superfund sites.’ Despite the tremendous need
for the program to address these dangerous sites, the number of
Superfund projects and projects termed ‘construction complete’
(meaning all cleanup solutions have been put in place) have fallen
significantly in the last six years. In 1995, for example, the fund
successfully recovered more than $250 million from polluters, while
in each of the past two fiscal years, the fund was able to recoup
roughly $60 million.

The decrease in funds is due in part to US bankruptcy laws that
shield companies from cleanup costs.
The CPI’s Kevin Bogardus reports that a
handful of companies responsible for some of the country’s most
polluted sites have gotten away with owing $750 million by
declaring bankruptcy and then reemerging from their financial
straits under new names. What’s more, companies like Lockheed
Martin, Halliburton, and a subsidiary of Tyco have won no-bid
contracts to clean up sites that their own companies or
subsidiaries have been responsible for polluting. Put another
way, taxpayers are now shouldering much of the burden as
corporations profit from their own filth.?

The lack of funding also has hurt the quality of cleanup
efforts. Bill Muno, former manager of the Great Lakes Region
Superfund program, tells
In These Times that cleanup now
‘takes much longer’ than it did when he was with the fund years
ago. In the past, the Superfund program would take care of both
immediate and residual threats at once. Now, according to Muno,
‘they’ll just do a partial cleanup.’

Members of Congress are now trying to look into the Superfund’s
financial management,
according to Joaquin Sapien of the CPI, but
most Americans remain unaware of the problems with the program.
‘If they don’t know about what is in their backyard, they are
not going to be putting pressure onto their representative,’
said Mollie Churchill, a coordinator for the governmental
watchdog organization OMB Watch. ‘If that pressure was there,
maybe there would be more money for the Superfund.’

Go there >>
Wasting Away

Go there, too >>
The Not-So Superfund

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