A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee approved a five-year renewal of the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup law yesterday, despite complaints from the panel's chairman that the bill contains "basic flaws" that will "cripple the cleanup effort."
The bill, approved by voice vote after a nearly seven-hour markup session, would provide $10 billion over five years to clean up the worst of the nation's toxic dumps.
But it does not contain rigid cleanup schedules sought by Chairman James J. Florio (D-N.J.), and it omits several other provisions that Florio and his allies said are needed to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency into faster action.
"Unless these problems are addressed, we will have turned our backs on the overwhelming evidence that the revitalization of Superfund will take more than just money, time or the current good will of EPA's senior management," Florio said.
Florio made only minor headway against a bipartisan coalition that last week pushed through a substitute for his $10 billion Superfund bill.
The coalition, headed by committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), fought off an amendment that would have expanded citizens' rights to sue polluters for cleanup. Another amendment, which would have strengthened right-to-know provisions designed to inform citizens about toxic substances in their communities, also failed.
But supporters of the amendment, including Rep. Dennis E. Eckart (D-Ohio), who sponsored the bill that displaced Florio's legislation last week, vowed to try again in full committee.
"I don't view this as ending today," said Eckart, who defected from Dingell's coalition to vote for both amendments.
Supporters of the Dingell-Eckart bill said they were not entirely pleased with the session's outcome. The panel voted to declare the tax title of the measure off-limits, meaning it will be up to the House Ways and Means Committee to decide how to raise nearly $2 billion a year to pay for toxic cleanup.
"I want the authors of the bill to know that I am not a happy camper," said Rep. Thomas J. Tauke (R-Iowa), who strongly objected to proposals to increase Superfund revenue through a general corporate tax. The fund is currently financed largely by a tax on chemical feed stocks.
"This is the most unhappy campsite in America," Rep. Billy Tauvin (D-La.) responded.
Despite Dingell's objection that the subject was not appropriate, the panel agreed to recommend a new tax on imported chemical feed stocks. The tax would be used to offset federal contributions to Superfund.
The debate, muted in comparison to last week's battle, was sharpest on whether citizens should be able to sue polluters directly for cleanups.
Supporter of the provision contend that, without a federal cause of action, neighbors of toxic-waste sites have little choice but to wait for their area to be deemed dangerous enough for federal cleanup.
"My people are never going to get on the priority list, folks," Rep. Philip R. Sharp (D-Ind.) said. "Most people aren't, and they don't have a prayer of getting any action under this system."
Opponents of citizen suits say they fear that opening federal courtrooms to such lawsuits would inundate the legal system and draw the EPA into many private suits.
Dingell, who supported similar citizen lawsuit provisions last year, said, "I would strongly support this if I knew something about its impact on resources."