The chemical industry is carrying on a "frenetic and self-serving" campaign against proposed legislation giving the government expanded powers to clean up hazardous wastes, a Carter administration official charged yesterday.
Using unusally strong language, Thomas C. Jorling, assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in effect that the industry had brought on the need for the legislation by refusing to eliminate dangerous practices.
"Numerous chemical companies across the country have been content to have toxic wastes hauled away, not knowing -- or apparently not caring -- where the wastes would ultimately be dumped," Jorling said.
The hazardouse conditions that now exist are the "direct result of premeditated acts of cynicism and gross irresponsibility on the part of some elements of the industry," he added.
The occasion for Jorling's broad attack on the chemical industry was a press conference at which the EPA announced its final program for dealing with spills of 299 harmful chemicals into waterways.
The new regulations, which have been drafted over seven years of arduous negotiations between government and industry, will take effect in 30 days. The regulations require companies to notify the government promptly of spills and authorize the government to clean up the poisonous wastes and collect the costs from the offending firms.
Under the Clean Water Act, the government already had authority to move in to clean up oil spills. The new regulations extend this power to spills involving an extensive list of hazardous substances.
While Jorling acknowledged that these powers are a "step forward," he and other officials said yesterday that passage of a much broader bill now before Congress is needed to provide better protection against dangers of chemical spills.
Legislation and regulations now on the books do not include leaks from thousands of waste disposal sites, some of them abandoned, that pollute underground water supplies.
The broad administration bill, nicknamed "superfund," would provide $1.6 billion over four years for cleaning up dangerous sites and would also provide some compensation to victims of spills.
A proposal introduced by Sens. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) and John Culver (D-Iowa) would make this legislation even tougher than sought by the administration. Both proposals call for the chemical industry to finance the anti-pollution program through fees, although the administration bill would include a government contribution to the fund as well.
Two Senate subcommittees are scheduled to hold hearings on the Muskie-Culver proposal next week.
The Chemical Manufacturers Association, representing most of the large producers, has been sharply critical of the "superfund" proposal on grounds that adequate legislation already exists.
In his statement yesterday, Jorling accused the association of issuing criticism that was "incorrect and misleading."
He said that the real reason for the association's objections is that "many . . . parties wish to be insulated from any continuing responsibilities for the hazards to society they have created."
Jorling noted that "almost every day the press reports on chemical incidents resulting from appalling negligence and lack of good management practices."
An association spokesman, William M. Stover, said yesterday that he believed Jorling's comments were motivated by the fact that "They [EPA officials] are stung by the validity of the arguments we've made and the things we've said."
"We continue to believe that the administration approach [for a single, sweeping bill on chemical wastes] is a one-shot panacea. We favor enacting new laws that would stop the harm from abandoned waste disposal sites. But we object to the EPA approach, which levies a fee on the whole chemical manufacturing industry."
The strong statements on both sides yesterday indicated an intensification of a government industry battle that already has been bitterly contested.
Regulations on spills of hazardous substances into waterways, announced yesterday, were first issued by EPA in March 1978, but were revised following a lawsuit brought by the industry.
Chemical company representatives subsequently worked closely with the EPA in drafting the final regulations that emerged yesterday and which provide for penalties of up to $250,000 against companies or individuals in the event of willful negligence.