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Carol M. Browner Speech

Hazwaste World Conference

Remarks Prepared for Delivery
HazWaste World Superfund XVIII Conference
Washington, DC
December 2, 1997

Good morning. I am delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to share a few thoughts on our nation's efforts to rid communities of the scourge of hazardous waste -- and to help them build a cleaner, brighter and more healthy future.

Over the past decade-and-a-half, the Superfund program has been in an almost constant state of transition. Cleaning up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites -- and removing the threats to public health -- has always been a daunting challenge. And, to be sure, Superfund has had its fits and starts.

But let me begin on an optimistic note. By any measure, we are making a great deal of progress in our efforts to improve the nation's hazardous waste cleanup program -- to make it faster, fairer and more efficient -- and to ensure that it does the best possible job of protecting the health of our citizens and returning land to communities for productive use.

Superfund now provides significantly faster cleanups, at lower cost, than it did several years ago. On average, we have cut more than two years off the time it takes to clean up a Superfund site -- and we are well on our way to achieving our goal of saving even more time.

We have completed a total of 343 Superfund cleanups over the past four-and-a-half years -- more than in the previous 12 years combined. More than 86 percent of all Superfund sites are either cleaned up or are in the midst of cleanup construction.

In fact, this month, we will be marking the completion of all construction activity at the 500th Superfund site.

And our goal is to complete cleanup on another 400 sites by the end of the year 2000.

We are also making great progress on a major goal of our Administration -- reducing litigation and transaction costs, working more cooperatively with responsible parties, increasing the fairness of the liability system, and getting "the little guys" out of the litigation web that surrounds many hazardous waste sites. In fact, the Clinton Administration has acted to remove more than 9,000 small parties from Superfund litigation over the past four years.

These are just some of the improvements that have resulted from the administrative reforms we have undertaken.

We have been achieving this progress while keeping faith with the original promise of the Superfund law -- protect the public health and the environment first -- and ensure that, wherever possible and appropriate, those responsible for polluting a site, and not the taxpayers, will be held responsible for the costs of cleaning it up.

Now, does all this mean that everything is just fine and dandy with Superfund? Of course not.

Much remains to be done to make this program as fast, as fair and as efficient as it can be -- and to enable Superfund to fulfill its promise to the American people.

In addition, we still have more to do to fully protect the "little guys" -- the small businesses, the "Mom and Pop" operations -- from becoming unfairly tangled in Superfund litigation.

For years, we have tried to solve this problem. The owner of a diner who sends mashed potatoes to the local dump should not have to worry about being sued by the large, corporate polluters who are responsible for contaminating that dump. Innocent landowners, churches, girl scout troops, and small storefront businesses should be spared from crippling litigation by the large, corporate polluters over Superfund sites.

Yet, unfortunately -- despite our best efforts -- this continues to happen.

The fact is that we are trying to protect these small parties with one hand tied behind our back. The current law just doesn't work well in this area. And it is clear that we need legislation to fix it -- as well as to solve some of the other problems that have eluded our administrative reform efforts.

Make no mistake, even after all we have done to improve Superfund, we believe that it can be a better program -- that it can clean up more toxic waste sites faster -- that it can do an even better job of protecting the health of our citizens.

But we've got to have legislation. And we are 100-percent committed to enacting responsible Superfund reform legislation.

Why else would I be spending so much time on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers and testifying at hearings on Superfund? Why else would EPA staff be working night and day with congressional staffers on this very issue?

We want a bill. And we're determined to bridge our differences with key members of Congress so that we can enact legislation that will take this program to a new level of effectiveness.

We believe it can be done. Yes, we do have major concerns about the Congressional reform bills that have been introduced -- including Congressman Oxley's. We simply believe that they do not reflect today's Superfund program. They do not account for the administrative improvements we've made over the past few years. And they would create new problems -- such as slowing down the pace of cleanups, new litigation, and increased costs to taxpayers.

But we also believe that these Congressional efforts have been undertaken in good faith. The bills' sponsors have moved to address some of the concerns the Administration has identified -- and we certainly appreciate that. There has been movement. All sides are showing some willingness to move toward common ground. And, while significant differences remain, I believe they are not insurmountable.

Let me sum up where the Administration stands on the goals of a reformed Superfund program:

  • We believe it should protect human health and the environment, promote cost-effectiveness, and foster the return of contaminated sites to productive use by their communities.
  • We believe it should hold polluters responsible, while at the same time allowing parties to resolve their liability as efficiently as possible.
  • We believe it should encourage and support citizens in their efforts to participate in the cleanup decisions that affect their lives.
  • And we believe it should support a continued working relationship between all levels of government in cleaning up toxic waste sites.

The bottom line is that we want to fulfill our responsibility to find better, more effective ways to clean up the nation's worst sites, to work with affected communities, and to give them hope for the future. We want to build on our administrative successes. We want to rid more of America's communities of the scourge of hazardous waste. No child should have to grow up near a toxic waste dump.

And so I hope we will continue to talk, to trade ideas, to work through our differences, and to seek consensus on all issues when Congress comes back in January.

In the meantime, we are highly encouraged by the progress we have made on another initiative -- this one to help America's neighborhoods redevelop the old, abandoned industrial sites that are currently holding them back. I'm talking, of course, about the Brownfields program.

The interest expressed in Brownfields redevelopment has been astounding. EPA's second annual Brownfields Conference, held this fall in Kansas City, was attended by nearly two thousand people representing a wide range of businesses, organizations and governmental agencies. Clearly Brownfields redevelopment is of growing interest to a large and growing body of states, county and municipal governments, industries, financial institutions, and community groups.

A lot of things are happening.

Last May, the Vice President announced the new Brownfields National Partnership Action Agenda -- a new mechanism through which the federal government and other organizations are coordinating resources and efforts to help communities clean up and redevelop their Brownfields.

EPA's commitments include adding to the 121 Brownfields Pilot Grants that we have awarded to provide counties and cities across the country with some of the resources needed to spur site assessment and cleanup.

In addition, we now have a new Brownfield Tax Incentive on the books -- one signed by President Clinton in August -- that will act as an incentive to spur the cleanup and redevelopment of Brownfields in distressed urban and rural areas.

Under the new Brownfields Tax Incentive, environmental cleanup costs for properties in targeted areas are fully deductible in the year in which they are incurred, rather than having to be capitalized. This substantially reduces the capital costs for investments in Brownfields, making them more attractive to investors.

We are also hoping that Congress will enact legislation to further advance the Brownfields initiative along the lines of where the program is now headed -- including support not only for site assessment, but for cleanup, as well. In addition, we would like to see legislation that provides liability protection for bona fide prospective purchasers and innocent owners of contaminated property. And we would like it to support greater funding to state governments for development and infrastructure enhancement of State Voluntary Cleanup Programs.

We believe the Brownfields initiative has a great future. I am convinced that more and more Americans will see the value of these local Brownfields partnerships as we move into the payoff stage -- when all of the vision and hard work is translated into new development, new jobs and a brighter future for communities that were once held back by the existence of a brownfield in their midst.

It's happening already. And the results are truly compelling.

Like the partnership that developed between the city of Richmond, Virginia, and a local pharmaceutical company -- one that turned a five-acre brownfield in the southern part of the city into a plant expansion project that will bring in 400 new jobs.

Or the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies in Bridgeport, Connecticut -- joining with the private sector -- to clean up derelict industrial land in the city's west end and pave the way for new businesses and new jobs.

I can go on and on. The pledging of more than $150 million in public and private funds to give Lawrence, Massachusetts new vitality and jobs. The partnership that is working to restore commercial and retail development -- and with it, hope and opportunity -- to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Corridor in Indianapolis. The efforts in Astoria, Oregon to clean up the city's abandon lumber mill sites and turn that city's waterfront into a thriving area once again.

What do these redevelopment efforts have in common?

Visionary leadership at the community level. Determination to build a better future. Energy and innovation. People working together in partnership. And a Brownfields pilot grant to get their efforts off the ground.

In the end, millions of dollars of new development. Jobs created. Hope restored.

And all for a very small investment of federal money.

These are among the first few success stories. There will be many more to follow. I am convinced of that.

What they tell us is this -- when we work together, when we do everything we can to find common ground, there is almost no limit to what we can do to provide a safer, healthier world for our children.

Thank you.

 

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