Congressional battling over a "superfund" to finance the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste dumps is expected to reach an unusually bitter peak this week, with the Republicans divided and the Democratic feeling betrayed.
Sen. Robert Stafford (R-Vt.), who is to become Environment Committee chairman next session, is expected to introduce two new superfund bills, one an effort to get a compromise measure passed before December and the other designed to show opponents of the compromise what he intends to do after next year if they don't back down now.
Along with liberal Sen. John C. Culver (D-Iowa), who lost his job in the elections, Stafford has pushed a broad, victim-oriented version of superfund that would set up a $4 billion fund financed 75 percent by the chemcial industry and 25 percent by government. Most Senate Republicans and the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) have strongly opposed the bill, particularly the provisions assigning strict liability to the chemical-waste producers.But the bill has passed the Environment Committee and is due for markup of its monetary side in the Finance Committee this week.
The CMA backed instead a much more modest plan in a bill proposed by Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.). A slightly beefed-up version of Florio's bill passed the House, providing a $1.2 billion fund and less stringent liability provisions. Until last Friday there had been some hope among superfund supporters that the Senate might pass at least the House measure.
But nothing is certain now except that everyone is angry.
Florio held a news conference Friday to announce that he had been "betrayed" by the CMA, which he said had decided to withdraw its support for the House bill. Florio charged that the CMA was being opportunistic in thinking the incoming Republican administration would not favor a meaningful superfund.
CMA President Robert Roland then denied in an interview that the group had ever supported the House bill. What they had supported, he said, was Florio's original proposal -- the one that got modified on its way through the House. "We're not reneging on any agreement," he said. He also denied any change in position as a result of the election returns, saying the CMA still prefers the House bill to the Senate committee package, although it supports neither one.
Roland will get a chance to elaborate on his position at a previously scheduled news conference today.
At the same time, President Carter reportedly has asked Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) to exempt superfund legislation from his decision to keep all controversial bills off Senate floor until the new Congress. Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd Jr. (D-W. Va.) included it Saturday on a list of items he said he was "hopeful" about bringing to the floor.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the results of a study that found there will be enough toxic-waste disposal sites in most parts of the country to handle next year's estimated 43 million tons of industrial waste. But there will be shortfalls in the industrial belt of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in other parts of New England, the West and Midwest, the study said.
EPA Administrator Douglas Costle immediately cautioned that "no one should use this report to argue that new capacity is not needed." New regulations requiring production-to-disposal tracking of toxic wastes go into effect Wednesday, and until then nobody really will know how many existing sites will shut down rather than try to comply with the new requirements.
A superfund has been a top legislative priority for Costle and President Carter, who argue that as many as 1,200 dangerous abandoned sites nationwide must be cleaned up.