- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
Reduced funding for the federal Superfund toxic waste cleanup program has slowed down or halted cleanup at 55 sites, leaving surrounding communities exposed to dangerous toxic waste and letting polluters off the hook, according to an analysis of an EPA inspector general's report.
"As the trust fund diminishes, more and more money for toxic cleanup must be taken from general taxpayer revenues," said Julie Wolk, an environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), an alliance of state-based, citizen-funded public interest organizations that conducted the analysis. The report blames the Bush administration for cuts to the Superfund budget and Congress for shifting the cleanup burden to taxpayers.
Currently, 1,238 toxic waste sites are listed for cleanup, and 23 to 49 new sites are expected be added each year. From the mid-to late 1990s, Superfund cleaned up an average of 86 sites a year. The EPA estimated it would clean up 65 sites in 2002, but, according to PIRG, the agency completed cleanup at only 47. So far this year, the EPA has cleaned up 42 sites.
But in July, the EPA announced it had enough money this year to start 11 new projects in nine states, with no slowdown anticipated for ongoing work. The agency acknowledged that its ability to start cleanups at new sites is "more constrained today than in the past" but that both EPA's cleanup budget and the cleanup funds contributed by responsible parties have remained fairly constant.
PIRG's analysis contends that annual Superfund appropriations from 2001 to 2003 are more than $1 billion less than program needs. Call PIRG's Wolk at (202) 546-9707. For information from the EPA, visit www.epa.gov/superfund.