The House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected a proposal to impose toxic-waste cleanup deadlines on the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday, but supporters used a parliamentary maneuver to keep the issue alive for at least one more day.
By a vote of 26 to 16, the committee defeated an amendment to its $10 billion Superfund bill that would have forced the EPA to list at least 1,600 toxic-waste sites by 1988 and start cleaning up at least 600 of them by 1990.
Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.), who offered the amendment, said it was intended to accelerate the "painfully slow process" of toxic cleanups. Opponents argued that the rigid schedule would instead encourage the EPA to concentrate on easy sites or conduct hasty cleanups that could worsen contamination problems.
"Deadlines just don't work," said Rep. Dennis E. Eckart (D-Ohio), the bill's sponsor. Under Eckart's bill, the EPA would have to begin studies at 925 sites by 1990, but would be under no deadline to start cleanups.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), seeking time to work out a compromise, used a parlimentary procedure to force the session to a close shortly after the vote. The abrupt adjournment means that Waxman has until today's session to forge a compromise before the committee moves on to other sections of the bill.
"There is middle ground on that issue," Waxman said later. Whether his efforts are successful, he said, depends on whether the sponsors "hold with a blood-oath coalition to get their bill through without compromise."
Lawmakers are facing a tight deadline of their own on Superfund, which will expire in September unless Congress acts to renew it.
The bill still faces several battles in committee, however. Florio, Waxman and other members have a sheaf of amendments aimed at increasing citizens' power to force cleanups and expanding their rights to know about hazardous materials in their communities.
Meanwhile, several other committees have claimed jurisdiction over one or more parts of the bill, potentially adding days or weeks to the legislative process.