STATEMENT OF TIMOTHY FIELDS, JR
FEBRUARY 4, 1998
TIMOTHY FIELDS, JR
ACTING ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR
SOLID WASTE AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
FEBRUARY 4, 1998
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Committee. I am pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you to discuss the Agency's record of accomplishments over the past several years in fundamentally improving the Superfund program, including accelerating the pace of cleanup.
Before addressing the successes of the current Superfund program, I believe it is important to recognize, from the outset, Superfund's mission. Superfund is an important, and above all, a necessary program, dedicated to cleaning up our nation's hazardous waste sites, of which one in four Americans lives within one mile. EPA has worked closely with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in evaluating the impacts of these sites on public health. Superfund site impacts are real. ATSDR studies show a variety of health effects that are associated with some Superfund sites, including birth defects, cardiac disorders, changes in pulmonary function, impacts on the immune system (the body's natural defense system from disease and sickness), infertility, and increases in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. EPA also works with other federal agencies to assess the significant adverse impacts Superfund sites have had on natural resources and the environment. Together, the efforts of these agencies, working with EPA, provide the basis for targeting cleanups to protect public health and the environment, and show the need for Superfund.
The Clinton Administration remains committed to responsible, Superfund legislative reform. In the absence of legislative reform, the Agency has tried to reform the program administratively, and the results have documented the improvements. The current Superfund program and its status is an important framework for the legislative debate, given that we believe that a new Superfund bill should reflect the current, fundamentally different Superfund program of today, and should not be based on past problems now resolved.
As implementation of the Administrative Reforms continues, we continue to benefit from the flexibility our administrative approach affords us to make adjustments as experience with new ideas is gained, and to adjust our workload to reflect this experience. A good example is the Remedy Update Administrative Reform, which focuses on adjusting Superfund site remedies to changing science and technology. Because of administrative flexibility, in our implementation of this reform we have seized opportunities to make a variety of remedy improvements, and have been able to pace our remedy updates and include appropriate community involvement, so as not to slow down overall cleanup progress.
Given the many changes to the program over the past several years, my primary purpose today is twofold: 1) to provide you an overview of the current status of the program, including the status of the many administrative changes that have made Superfund a fundamentally different program; and 2) to address serious concerns EPA has with recent reports prepared by the General Accounting Office (GAO) related to the Superfund program and pace of cleanup.
In addition, the Administration remains concerned over the expiration of the authority to replenish the Superfund Trust Fund. It has been two years since the taxes expired, resulting in a steady erosion of the Trust Fund. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the Trust Fund will, at the end of fiscal year 1999, have about enough money remaining to support the program for approximately one quarter into fiscal year 2000.
A FUNDAMENTALLY BETTER SUPERFUND PROGRAM
Proof of a faster, fairer, more efficient Superfund program can be found in several simple indicators. We have completed cleanup construction at 504 sites on the National Priorities List as of January 26, 1998, and another 473 sites are in construction. The President's budget request for Fiscal Year 1999 will allow us to complete cleanup at an additional 136 sites, and achieve our goal of having 900 sites completed by the end of 2001. Our analyses clearly show that Superfund cleanup durations have been reduced by about 20%, or two years on the average. Additionally, responsible parties are performing or funding approximately 75% of Superfund long-term cleanups, saving taxpayers more than $12 billion to date.
Meanwhile, EPA has succeeded in removing over 15,000 small contributors from the liability system, 66% of these in the last four years. We offered orphan share compensation of over $100 million during the past two years to responsible parties willing to negotiate long-term cleanup settlements, and we continue the process at every eligible site. Finally, with cleanups that use treatment of waste and permanent solutions to the maximum extent practicable, costs of cleanups are decreasing dramatically because of a number of factors, including: the use of presumptive remedies; the use of reasonably anticipated future land use determinations, which allow cleanups to be tailored to specific sites; the use of a phased approach to defining objectives and methods for ground water cleanups; and EPA's 15-plus years of implementing the program during which it has achieved greater efficiencies and lower costs when selecting cleanup options. As a result of these factors, the costs of cleanup have been reduced by approximately 20%, on average.
SUPERFUND ADMINISTRATIVE REFORMS
Through the commitment of EPA, State, and Tribal site managers, other Federal agencies, private sector representatives, and involved communities, EPA has achieved real results protecting public health and the environment while experimenting with and instituting changes to our cleanup process through Administrative Reforms. EPA is committed to continuing to implement these administrative improvements in the Superfund program in the years ahead. Our objectives for administrative reform have been to:
- Protect public health and the environment over the long-term, while lowering the cost of cleanups
- Increase the pace of cleanups
- Preserve the principle that parties responsible for contamination should be responsible for cleaning it up, while promoting fairness in the liability scheme, and reducing transaction costs and litigation
- Involve local communities, States, and Tribes in decision making
- Promote economic redevelopment at Superfund sites
The success of the Administrative reforms has been demonstrable. In a December 1996 report, the Superfund Settlements Project (SSP), a private organization comprised of industry representatives, acknowledged EPA's "substantial" track record "since EPA began implementing the October 2, 1995 administrative reforms...especially in light of the severe obstacles that EPA encountered during fiscal year 1996 as it began implementation of these reforms."
The Administrative Reforms have continued to be evaluated by parties outside the Agency, such as the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA). In their April 1997 report, CMA, a non-profit trade association whose member companies account for more than 90% of the productive capacity for basic industrial chemicals in the United States, stated that "at sites where the reforms have been fully applied so far, EPA's reforms have produced benefits that otherwise would not have occurred."
Over the past five years, EPA has implemented three rounds of administrative reforms covering a wide range of Superfund concerns, including: fairness in enforcement; public involvement; State and Tribal empowerment; cleanup effectiveness; economic redevelopment; environmental justice; and program efficiency. This week, EPA released its Annual Report on the status of Administrative Reforms for fiscal year (FY)1997. We believe the successes of the program are demonstrative - cleanup construction is underway or completed at 89 percent of the sites on the final National Priorities List (excluding Federal Facilities). While the Administrative Reforms are not solely responsible for these successes, they have strengthened, streamlined, and educated the Superfund program, leading to cost and time savings, as well as important lessons learned. Below are some of the highlights from the 1997 Annual Report.
Providing Protective Cleanups at Lower Costs
EPA is continuing a number of administrative reforms which promote cleanups that are technologically and scientifically sound, cost-effective and appropriately consistent nationally. These reforms will lower cleanup costs, while assuring long-term protection of human health and the environment.
EPA's National Remedy Review Board (the Board) is continuing its targeted review of complex and high-cost cleanup plans, prior to final remedy selection, without delaying the overall pace of cleanup. Since the Board's inception in October 1995, it has reviewed a total of 20 site cleanup decisions, resulting in estimated cost savings of approximately $31.5 million. The Board expects to review approximately 10 additional sites in FY 1998, and will continue to refine the scope and nature of the Board's mission and procedures. One example of such refinements is the inclusion of non-time-critical removal actions, meeting certain criteria, in the type of decisions the Board reviews, as well as an expansion in the amount of materials that potentially responsible parties may submit to the Board for review.
In addition to the work of the Board, EPA has achieved great success in updating cleanup decisions made in the early years of the Superfund program to accommodate changing science and technology. After two years of implementation, more than $725 million in future cost reductions are predicted as a result of the Agency's review and update of remedies at more than 100 sites. Updates are currently underway at an additional 35 sites, and our Regions will soon begin developing Regional plans for implementing additional updates in FY 1998. It is important to stress that the future cost reductions described above can be achieved while still preserving appropriate levels of protection, and the current pace of the program.
Increasing the Pace of Cleanups
The completion of 504 Superfund toxic waste site cleanups (as of January 26, 1998) is a significant measure of the improved pace of cleanups. EPA, through program reforms, achieved more than twice as many cleanups in the last five years than in the first 12 years of the program, combined. Currently, over 89% of the non-federal sites on the National Priorities List (over 1,200 of 1,353) are either undergoing cleanup construction (remedial or removal), or have been completed. EPA is continuing the use of its Superfund Accelerated Cleanup Model (SACM) to spark early cleanup action, and standardized or "presumptive" remedies, as well as other reforms, to maintain and increase this pace. As a result of the quickened pace of cleanup, we are completing construction at an average annual rate of 85 sites per year, as opposed to 65 sites per year a few years ago.
Promoting Fairness in Enforcement
EPA's "Enforcement First" strategy has resulted in responsible parties performing or paying for approximately 75% of long-term cleanups, thereby conserving the Superfund Trust Fund for sites for which there are no viable or liable responsible parties. Through Administrative Reforms, EPA has addressed the concerns of stakeholders regarding the fairness of the liability system. EPA has continued implementation of its 1996 "orphan share compensation" policy, under which EPA offers to "forgive" a portion of its past costs and projected future oversight costs during every settlement negotiation for long-term cleanup or non-time critical removal, to cover some or all of the orphan share at the site. The orphan share policy has encouraged settlement, rather than litigation, and enhances the fairness and equity of settlements. Over the past two years, the Agency offered over $100 million in orphan share compensation to potential settling parties across the United States, and continues that practice at every eligible negotiation.
In addition, EPA continues to use its settlement authority to remove small volume waste contributors from the liability system, responding to the burden third-party litigation can place on parties that made a very limited contribution to the pollution at a site. To date, the Federal government has completed settlements with over 15,000 small volume contributors at hundreds of Superfund sites, protecting these parties from expensive private contribution suits. In addition, EPA continues to step in to prevent the big polluters from dragging untold numbers of the smallest "de micromis" contributors of waste into contribution litigation by publicly offering to any such party $0 (i.e., no-cost) settlements that would prevent lawsuits by other PRPs. The real success of this approach is to be measured by the untold number of potential lawsuits that we have discouraged.
Involving Communities and States in Decision making
The Agency supports the principle that communities must be offered meaningful opportunities for involvement in the cleanup process as early as possible and continue to be involved while the site is cleaned up. Our approach to the remedy selection process continues to empower local citizens and other stakeholders to be involved in the remedy selection process that ultimately results in EPA choosing common sense remedies that meet statutory and regulatory requirements. In addition, our Regional Ombudsmen continue to serve as a direct point of contact for stakeholders to address their concerns at Superfund sites, and our electronic lines of communication and our Internet pages continue to provide information to our varied stakeholders on issues related to both cleanup and enforcement.
Additionally, EPA continues to acknowledge the successes that States are achieving conducting thousands of hazardous waste site cleanups under State and Federal Superfund programs. States are achieving success managing many of the short-term, relatively inexpensive actions that address immediate hazards, and a growing number are conducted pursuant to State voluntary cleanup programs, as discussed below. Some States are able to cleanup NPL sites in about the same time it takes EPA to address these sites. EPA is continuing to increase the number of sites where States and Tribes are taking a lead role in assessment and cleanup using the appropriate mechanisms under the current law. Agreements such as those with the State of Minnesota and the State of Washington are excellent examples of these efforts, which build upon a foundation of demonstrated State readiness and resources, and provide clear State decision-making authority with support from, but minimal overlap with EPA.
Promoting Economic Redevelopment
EPA is continuing to promote redevelopment of abandoned and contaminated properties across the country that were once used for industrial and commercial purposes ("brownfields"). Brownfields exist in virtually every community in the nation. The Administration believes strongly that environmental protection, public health, and economic progress are inextricably linked. Rather than separating the challenges facing these communities, our brownfields initiative seeks to bring all parties to the table -- and to provide a framework for them to seek common ground on the whole range of challenges: environmental, economic, legal and financial. The EPA brownfields pilot grants are forming the basis for new and more effective partnerships. In many cases, city government environmental specialists are sitting down together with the city's economic development experts for the first time. Others are joining in -- businesses, local residents, community activists.
Under EPA's new Action Agenda, we will continue to identify, strengthen, and improve the commitments EPA and its colleagues can make to brownfields. The Brownfields Assessment Pilots form a major component of the Brownfields Action Agenda. EPA has committed to fund 121 assessment pilots to date at up to $200,000 each. EPA expects to select approximately 100 additional National assessment pilots by the end of May 1998. States, cities, towns, counties, and federally recognized Indian tribes that have an interest in environmentally sound redevelopment of brownfields are invited to apply. EPA expects to select a discrete number of pilots specifically dedicated to federally recognized Indian tribes. Applications will be accepted on a "rolling submissions" schedule. The next deadline for the new applications for the 1998 assessment pilots is March 23, 1998.
In the 1997 fiscal year, EPA's budget for brownfields included $10 million to capitalize a second-stage of brownfields pilot. The Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund (BRLF) pilots are designed to enable eligible States, cities, towns and counties, Territories, and Indian Tribes to capitalize revolving loan funds to safely clean up and sustainably reuse brownfields. From the eligible entities who applied, 24 BRLF pilots were awarded and funded at up to $350,000. EPA will limit the use of brownfields pilot support to assessment pilots and will not be awarding BRLF pilots this year, unless specifically authorized by Congress. It is important to note, however, that cities have stated that they desperately need funds for cleaning up municipally controlled (e.g., tax liens) properties.
A very important facet of the Brownfields Initiative is scheduled for implementation this year. The Brownfields Showcase Communities project is an attempt to focus Federal government attention on selected communities across the United States. Those communities selected through an application process will receive special technical, financial and targeted federal assistance to address issues of contaminated urban and rural properties. EPA and fifteen other Federal agencies are sponsoring the Brownfields Showcase Communities project. Through a multi-agency panel, applications are being reviewed and at least 10 Showcase Communities will be selected shortly. These communities will be models for Federal coordination and cooperation.
Finally, our work together to enact the Brownfields Tax Incentive agreed to last year fully demonstrates our shared commitment to responsible legislation on these issues. This is a 3-year tax incentive plan that will reduce the cost of cleaning up thousands of contaminated, abandoned sites in economically distressed areas. It is anticipated that this $0.8 billion tax incentive will leverage more than $4 billion in private funds to clean up an estimated 14,000 brownfields. The President's budget request for Fiscal Year 1999 proposes to extend the tax incentive indefinitely.
PACE OF CLEANUPS: DURATIONS
While the Administrative Reforms are beginning to reap significant rewards for the Superfund program in terms of time and dollar savings, recent reports and studies have attempted to measure the progress of the Superfund program and compare early activities to the actions of today. In particular, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued such a report, entitled "Superfund: Times to Complete the Assessment and Cleanup of Hazardous Waste Sites" (March 1997) ("Durations Report"), and then issued a follow-up letter in September 1997 to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, entitled "Superfund: Duration of the Cleanup Process at Hazardous Waste Sites on the National Priorities List" ("Cohort Letter"). EPA has significant concerns regarding both the Durations Report and the Cohort Letter, and believes that both paint an inaccurate picture of the progress and duration of Superfund cleanups.
The Durations Report is Fundamentally Flawed in its Methodology
In the Durations Report, GAO examined a number of operable units at Superfund sites, concluding that the average time to assess and to cleanup sites has been increasing over time. Specifically, GAO concluded that "for non-federal Superfund sites, the time it took to complete cleanups increased from 2.4 years in 1986 to 10.6 years in 1996" Unfortunately, these conclusions have been used as "evidence" of delays and the alleged "ineffectiveness" of the Administrative Reforms. In reality, because of several fundamental flaws in the GAO analysis, the conclusions reached by GAO are incorrect.
First, GAO's analysis relies upon completions of operable units, and not upon site completions. Operable units refer to discrete portions of work performed within a Superfund site. A particular site may have several operable units, which could, and usually do, both start and complete at different times. Many Superfund sites have two or more operable units, meaning that GAO's duration figures do not paint an accurate picture of total site cleanups. In fact, none of the sites in GAO's 1986 assessment achieved "construction completion" status until several years later.
Even if the use of partial site cleanups (operable unit completion) were not a problem, the method in which GAO accomplished its analysis leads to seriously flawed conclusions. GAO's methodology viewed EPA policies from the standpoint of completions, and not start dates - for example, the Superfund Accelerated Cleanup Model (SACM), which streamlines the front end of the Superfund process, was announced in 1992, but fully implemented in 1994. The GAO methodology, looking at sites completed post-1994, concluded that SACM had no effect on durations, even though the impact of SACM could not have been measured at the time of GAO's analysis at sites listed post-1994, because it addresses the front-end of the process.
Many of the most current Administrative Reforms, especially those implemented in the second and third rounds, have demonstrated measurable successes, as illustrated by the FY 1997 Annual Report. However, these successes are only beginning their cumulative impact on the Superfund program. While future impacts cannot be definitively measured at this time, we have begun to see decreases in both the time and cost of Superfund cleanups. None of these impacts, however, were accounted for in the analysis performed by GAO in the Durations Report.
In addition, the methodology used fails to acknowledge the presence of a backlog of hundreds of sites already in existence when Congress enacted the Superfund law, which statistically skews the GAO analysis. Simply put, regardless of program performance in the later years, the outcome of GAO's measurement approach will always show longer durations over time. This was graphically shown by Congressman Henry Waxman during a hearing before the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight on the draft GAO Durations Report. Mr. Waxman also demonstrated GAO's inconsistencies with its own past reports, showing that the methodology used by GAO in the Durations Report was considered inappropriate by GAO in other studies, precisely because a backlog of cases existed.
Even the conclusions of GAO's Durations Report bear some close scrutiny. For example, GAO's methodology resulted in a conclusion that in 1986, it took, on average, 2.4 years to complete a Superfund cleanup after a site was placed on the NPL. GAO uses this number to illustrate the alleged increase in duration for sites completed more recently. Close inspection, however, reveals that this figure is suspect for a number of reasons. First, the figure of 2.4 years is based upon only 17 observations - - much too small a sample to accurately support conclusions about the entire NPL. It is also important to recognize that none of the 17 observations reached the point of construction completion until several years after GAO's measurement in 1986. Second, this figure directly conflicts with previous reports issued by GAO, such as its 1993 report entitled "Superfund Progress, Problems, and Reauthorization Issues," in which GAO identified significantly longer time frames for components of the Superfund cleanup process. In addition, GAO's figures in the Durations Report are at odds with reports issued by the Congressional Budget Office, as well as numerous other publicly and privately conducted studies on the subject of Superfund durations.
Finally, the figure becomes suspect based upon a look back to the historical reality at the time. During the 1980's, the Superfund program was experiencing a number of significant impacts: Superfund was a relatively new program, subject to the problems associated with implementation (i.e., securing contracts, acquiring experience with Superfund cleanups and cleanup technology, addressing new legal precedents, etc.); reauthorization occurred in 1986, causing the need for the program to once again adjust to a new law; and funding concerns faced the program. In the midst of this turmoil, it is difficult to view with any credibility the conclusion that EPA was capable of conducting cleanups, on average, in 2.4 years during this time period.
The "Cohort" Letter Fails to Recognize Reforms to the Program
and Leads to an Erroneous Conclusion
GAO followed up its Durations Report with a "Cohort" Letter, in which it generated an average cleanup duration of 7.9 years for all sites on the NPL listed from 1986 to 1994, by assuming that all actions not yet completed would reach completion on an arbitrary date (July 1, 1997). GAO further concluded that because such a large proportion of the sites listed in the 1986 to 1994 time frame were still in progress, the average cleanup times for these sites would exceed eight years (EPA's current average), possibly by a substantial margin.
The methodology used by GAO in the Cohort Letter, at best, creates a skewed "snapshot" due to a number of long-term sites undertaken at the beginning of the program. In addition, the method completely ignores the benefits the program is beginning to reap from increases in program efficiency and Administrative Reforms. EPA is documenting numerous examples of these benefits in sites listed and cleaned up under recent policy reforms. Unlike GAO's assessment of parts of 17 sites in 1986, EPA can today identify over 85 NPL sites that were listed in the 1990's and achieved construction completion status in an average of 5 years or less.
For example, the Southern Shipbuilding Corp. Site in Slidell, Louisiana, a facility contaminated with metals, organic compounds, and asbestos, was listed on the NPL in 1995, but became a construction completion in 1997. Early action to address contamination in the soils at the facility, as well as the adjacent Bayou Bonfouca, led to the selection and implementation of a remedy for removal and offsite incineration of waste and sediments and consolidation and capping of the remaining soil. Other examples include the Ripon City Landfill, in Ripon, Wisconsin, where EPA completed construction of a landfill cap, gas and groundwater monitoring remedy at a former appliance facility in 1996, after listing the site on the NPL in 1994; and the Belding Warehouse, in Belding, Michigan, which was listed on the NPL in 1995 due to contamination from radiological World War II aircraft components, and was cleaned up in 1997.
Because of the approach used by GAO, very little impact of the current Superfund program is captured in the analysis provided by the Cohort Letter, especially reforms aimed at the front of the cleanup pipeline. EPA believes that cleanups beginning today, which are able to take advantage of the many changes to the program and improved program efficiency, will accomplish this goal, and believes that the projects of yesterday, many of which were started or completed prior to these improvements, may not.
The Time it Takes to Clean Up a Superfund Site is Decreasing
As we are beginning to document, through such sites as those described above, Administrative Reforms and other improvements are beginning to yield impressive results. While we are committed to shortening the lengths of cleanups, we recognize that many of these sites took years to create, and will, as a necessity, take some time to clean up. As a result, our focus has been on shortening the process, without adversely impacting the long-term reliability or degree of the cleanup.
Our analyses clearly show that Superfund cleanup durations have been reduced by about 20%, or two years, on the average, without sacrificing any of the protections of human health and the environment provided by current law. We are measuring these successes by looking at discrete pipeline milestones and developing durations analyses that better reflect the complexity of decisions, technologies, and reforms in every aspect of the program. EPA's goal to complete construction completion at 650 NPL sites by the end of the year 2000 (estimated before the President's announced goal of completing 900 completions by the end of the year 2000) assumed a completion rate of approximately 65 sites per year. However, under the Superfund program of today, EPA has increased the pace of completions to approximately 85 construction completions per year.
A number of factors are contributing to this increase in pace, including: use of presumptive remedies, which lessens the time to perform many site studies because fewer cleanup options are analyzed; use of in-field analytical methods to help speed site studies and site cleanups, allowing us to cut months off the time to conduct laboratory analyses at many sites; use of early response/removal actions at many sites to begin cleanup sooner, shortening the overall cleanup time frame at many sites; use of excellent contracting mechanisms in place in our regions, which allows fast access to pre-placed contracts to initiate work faster than in the past; and use of early community involvement to encourage the public living near Superfund sites to participate in selecting and implementing remedies acceptable to the community - fewer site disputes mean faster cleanup time frames.
PACE OF CLEANUPS: THE NATIONAL PRIORITIES LIST
In addition to its analysis on the durations of Superfund cleanups, GAO also addressed the issue of durations in listing sites on the National Priorities List. Unfortunately, GAO used the same methodology it applied in its durations analysis, which suffers from serious limitations when applied to a process that begins with a large backlog of work, such as the process of listing sites on the NPL. As a result, GAO's methodology presents an inaccurate picture of these durations.
Even if GAO's methodology were correct, EPA believes that the information is of little value for evaluating EPA's success in assessing and processing sites, and that other information is more demonstrative. For example, over 41,000 sites have been entered into CERCLIS, EPA's database of potentially contaminated sites. Of those 41,000 sites, EPA has investigated 97% of them (investigations are complete at 82%), and archived over 30,000. On average, for a site discovered today, the Agency expects to conclude a preliminary assessment in just 10 months, and expects to complete our sampling and lab analysis, data validation, reports, and where needed, preliminary scoring for the NPL in another 18 months.
In addition to these other indicators of program accomplishments, GAO neglected to reflect EPA's listing policy and rationale. EPA views the listing of a site on the NPL as just one tool among many for ensuring that sites are cleaned up. In fact, EPA typically uses the threat of listing a site on the NPL only when other approaches, such as voluntary cleanup programs, have not been effective. In many cases, delays in listing a site are intentional, allowing for other avenues to cleanup to be explored first. For example, at the Kennecott sites in Utah, EPA proposed the sites for listing, but entered into a formal agreement with the relevant parties committing to drop the sites from proposal when Kennecott has all treatment systems completed. For those sites which require urgent action, the Agency is able to take swift action to quickly list a site, such as it did at the LCP Chemical Company Site in Brunswick, Georgia.
In a relatively small number of cases, however, EPA believes that some stakeholder interests can unduly delay NPL listing. EPA's policy (and past requirement) of obtaining concurrence of the State Governor in listing decisions has led to significant delays in such cases as the Nansemond Ordinance Depot in Suffolk, Virginia, where the previous Governor affirmatively refused concurrence. In addition, in some cases, potentially responsible parties use sophisticated and aggressive legal tactics in attempts to prevent listing. These "roadblocks" are beyond the control of EPA, and are not the product of study or other delays.
Finally, EPA does agree with GAO that there are still 2,800 sites in EPA's database that appear to meet the Hazard Ranking System criteria for listing on the NPL, and we are working with GAO to better characterize those sites. However, it is important to recognize that these sites also include sites at which States use the threat of listing on the NPL to encourage completion of State cleanups already underway, as well as voluntary cleanup sites. Such actions will reduce the aggregate number of sites which will ultimately be placed on the NPL.
PACE OF CLEANUPS: THE SUPERFUND ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM ACCOMPLISHES
In their 1994 report to Congress, "Status, Cost and Timeliness of Hazardous Waste Site Cleanups," GAO stated that there is "... little time difference in the cleanup work financed by EPA and the cleanup financed by parties responsible for the contamination." GAO concluded that "statutory limits appear to have accomplished the Congress's goal of ensuring that EPA's cleanup activities are not hindered by legal challenges." Thus, PRPs complete site cleanups in approximately the same amount of time as a Fund-lead cleanup.
Litigation does not stop cleanup. Indeed, the statute prohibits litigation from delaying cleanups. Under section 113(h) of CERCLA, a party can neither sue to stop work at a site nor have a court review EPA's remedy decision until EPA initiates an enforcement action. This bar on judicial review of remedies allows EPA to concentrate on cleanups rather than proceed through litigation before beginning to remove the risks.
Settlements with Responsible Parties Promote the Ultimate Goal of Superfund:
Settlements with PRPs have produced commitments to perform over $12 billion in site cleanup. Since EPA adopted its "enforcement first" approach, PRPs have performed approximately 75% of the long-term cleanup work, and the large majority of the 500 NPL sites designated as "construction complete" were PRP-conducted cleanups.
Settlements address many issues, including fairness. EPA routinely negotiates equitable "orphan shares" - those shares of liability attributable to insolvent or defunct PRPs. EPA also expeditiously resolves the liability of small volume contributors during settlement negotiations and reduces the Agency's claims against parties with a limited ability to pay. Addressing these issues produces enormous benefits in obtaining cleanups as equitably as possible.
Enforcement and Litigation Activities Run Parallel with Site
Site cleanup activities proceed while the Agency conducts its enforcement activities. EPA performs PRP searches and develops liability evidence at the same time that it conducts the site assessments and other cleanup activity. These are parallel activities, not sequential, and thus do not necessarily lengthen cleanup time frames.
Through such factors as Administrative Reforms and the maturing of the Superfund program, the program is now fundamentally different than it was just five years ago. EPA will continue to work with such entities as GAO to develop appropriate methods for measuring the successes of the program. Additionally, in the absence of legislative reform, EPA will continue to implement and refine its Administrative Reforms, seeking to: promote cost-effective cleanup choices that protect human health and the environment over the long-term; reduce litigation so more time can be spent on cleanups and less on lawyers; and help communities become more informed and involved so that cleanup decisions make the most sense at the community level.