The House approved a five-year, $10 billion renewal of the "Superfund" toxic-waste cleanup program yesterday after agreeing to put the major burden of financing it on the chemical and oil industries.
The bill, approved 391 to 33, would for the first time set deadlines and standards for toxic cleanup. It is $2.5 billion larger than a version approved by the Senate earlier this year and nearly twice as large as the Reagan administration wants.
The House also affirmed, 212 to 211, its decision to require companies to divulge more information about toxic emissions from their plants.
Reps. Bob Edgar (D-Pa.) and Gerry E. Sikorski (D-Minn.) won the amendment in a late-night vote last week, but opponents succeeded in forcing reconsideration yesterday. It would require companies to report emissions of substances suspected of causing chronic health problems, such as cancer, and substances capable of causing immediate injury and death.
The House voted, 261 to 162, to reject another controversial amendment that would have allowed victims of exposure to hazardous waste to sue for damages in federal court. Environmentalists supported the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), but opponents argued that it would benefit lawyers to the detriment of toxic cleanups.
The vote on taxes came earlier, when the chamber voted, 220 to 206, to replace a broad-based tax on manufactured goods with higher taxes on petroleum and raw chemicals. The vote was a major setback for the oil and chemical industries, which had mounted an intense lobbying campaign to preserve the broad tax.
"This vote is testimony to the fact that Congress believes in the principle of polluter pays," said Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), who led the battle to uproot the broad-based levy.
Among Downey's supporters was Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), whose panel approved the tax earlier this year over his objections. "This is not the time, and this is not the bill to start America down the path of a national tax to be paid by the consumer," Rostenkowski said.
Who would pay for a greatly expanded toxic cleanup program has been the most controversial issue in trying to renew Superfund.
Oil-state members argued fervently yesterday to retain the broad-based tax, contending that sharp tax increases on petroleum and raw chemicals would drive the industry abroad, cost jobs and damage the U.S. trade balance.
The bill now goes to conference with the Senate, which passed its $7.5 billion version in September. Sponsors of the House bill said there is little chance of compromising on substantial differences with the Senate before Congress adjourns for the holidays.
Superfund technically expired Oct. 1, and the Environmental Protection Agency has suspended work on dozens of toxic sites nationwide to stretch the remaining funds.
Among other things, the House bill would:
*Require the EPA to add 1,600 sites to its priority list and begin cleaning 600 of them in the next five years. Neither current law nor the Senate version sets such a cleanup schedule.
*Grant citizens the right to sue the EPA and polluters for prompt cleanup of sites that pose a "substantial and imminent" danger to human health.