Legislation to renew and greatly enlarge the "Superfund" toxic-dump cleanup program headed for the House floor today after feuding Democrats announced they had reconciled their differences over the bill.
The oil and chemical industries, meanwhile, stepped up their defensive campaign for a broad-based corporate tax to fund the $10 billion, five-year cleanup. Both the Senate and the House versions of Superfund would impose such a tax, but an effort to replace it with higher taxes on chemical and petroleum products appears to be gaining momentum in the House.
The Superfund compromise was worked out in marathon negotiations between leaders of the Energy and Commerce and Public Works and Transportation committees, which had approved radically different versions of the cleanup program.
Members of both panels announced the agreement in a joint statement Tuesday night, praising the compromise as "a sound, workable Superfund program" that will speed cleanups of the nation's worst toxic dumps.
But the Public Works version emerged as the clear winner, prevailing in the controversial areas of cleanup deadlines, standards and expansion of citizens' legal rights.
"It's good. It's stronger than what we wanted at the beginning," said Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.), who had unsuccessfully championed most of the same provisions in the Energy and Commerce panel earlier this year.
The compromise legislation also was hailed by environmental lobbyists, although they said they would seek additional strengthening amendments on the floor.
The measure would require the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up at least 600 toxic dumps in the next five years, to the health standards set under other environmental laws. It also would grant neighbors of toxic dumps the right to sue polluters directly if the EPA failed to act.
Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who had battled to keep those provisions out of his panel's version, called the compromise "a good agreement."
Congressional sources said Dingell's bargaining position with Public Works had been severely eroded by the inattention of the oil and chemical industries, which have virtually deserted the nuts-and-bolts debate to concentrate on saving a broad-based corporate tax approved by the Ways and Means Committee.
The tax is vigorously opposed by a coalition of manufacturing and processing industries and by the White House, which views it as a form of "value-added" tax. A substitute financing plan sponsored by Reps. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) and Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.), which would shift most of the burden back to oil and chemical firms, has been steadily picking up supporters.
The heads of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) launched a counterattack yesterday, contending at a joint news conference that a sharp increase in the special taxes their industries pay for Superfund would cost thousands of jobs and damage U.S. trade.
"Our business would wither," said API President Charles J. DiBona. "We would wither away."
DiBona and CMA President Robert A. Roland said that the EPA's investigation of toxic dumps has identified wastes from at least 33 major industries, including food processors, automakers, brewers and electronics firms.
"We're simply saying that cleanups ought to better reflect who put the waste in the site," DiBona said.