A bitter, behind-the-scenes dispute among House "Superfund" conferees broke into the open this week, raising questions about whether Congress can meet a May 23 deadline to renew the toxic-waste cleanup program.
House conferees favoring a strong Superfund bill denounced the chief House negotiator, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), to reporters and carried their complaints to Speaker O'Neill.
Their anger was touched off by a Dingell-chaired, closed-door House conferee caucus that Wednesday approved a response to an offer Senate negotiators made last week in an effort to break the deadlock over the Superfund bill.
The response was put together without consultation with some dissidents who complained that it is weaker than both the Senate offer and the Superfund bill approved overwhelmingly last year by the House. Senate and House negotiators have been trying since February to resolve differences between the Superfund bills passed by each chamber.
Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.) said his side wanted an open caucus to force the Dingell group "to vote in public on citizen suits and cleanup standards. We're not going to let them sell out Superfund in secret."
Members on both sides of the dispute agreed on one point: time is growing short for Congress, which will be in a Memorial Day recess from May 23 to June 3. Temporary funding for the cleanup program expires May 31 and conferees said there is little sentiment for another extension.