Spurred by last year's disastrous chemical leak in Bhopal, India, and recent toxic spills in West Virginia, the Senate voted yesterday to require companies to notify public officials immediately of potentially dangerous chemical releases.
The measure, offered by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), was part of a broad emergency-planning package added to the Superfund toxic waste cleanup law.
The amendment would give communities and local safety officials immediate access to the same toxic-release information that companies now must report to the Environmental Protection Agency.
It would also require companies that make, handle or store hazardous material to share information on the products in advance with fire officials.
Congress is facing a Sept. 30 deadline for action on the Superfund, which is financed by a special tax on raw chemical materials that expires at the end of the fiscal year.
But in its second day of floor activity yesterday, with the deadline less than two weeks away, the Senate did not tackle any of the bill's controversial provisions, including a broad-based tax on large manufacturers that has invited a presidential veto.
Instead, with little debate and no dissent, the Senate has swiftly approved a series of measures that have little bearing on Superfund cleanups. One would require the EPA to study radon gas and other indoor air-pollution problems; another would ban the use of lead pipes and lead solder in new homes.
The proposed Superfund tax was approved by the Senate Finance Committee, which called it the only feasible way to pay for a greatly expanded Superfund.
The Senate bill calls for $7.5 billion in cleanup funds during the next five years, more than four times the size of the current $1.6 billion law.
A House version, which has yet to reach the floor, would increase the fund to $10 billion. The Ways and Means Committee has not yet approved a financing method for that bill.
The administration, which wants no more than $5.3 billion for Superfund, regards the manufacturing tax as a value-added tax and has threatened to veto the bill if the tax is included.