Superfund continues to do its job

SECOND OPINION • It's a misconception that polluters don't pay

The piece 'Superfund's funding isn't so super' (Insight, Dec. 30) shows a common misunderstanding of how the Superfund program works and what the program has accomplished since its inception -23 years ago.

I would like to address several misrepresentations regarding the Superfund's 'polluter pays' policy, the Superfund Trust Fund Tax and the program's success to date.

The essay states that 'program costs are shifting from polluting industries to regular taxpayers.' This is untrue. The 'polluter pays' principle continues to drive Superfund cleanups.

In fact, private party funding through the Superfund enforcement program is the principal funding source for Superfund site cleanups. Approximately 70 percent of Superfund cleanups are done by the parties responsible for contaminated sites.

The Environmental Protection Agency uses congressionally appropriated funding to pay for cleanup at the remaining 30 percent of Superfund sites not cleaned up by the parties responsible for the toxic waste. The Superfund Trust Fund has never been the sole source of funds for Superfund cleanups.

Congress has always provided a mix of general revenues and trust fund monies, and the amount appropriated has never borne any relation to the trust fund balance. For the past five years, congressional appropriations for Superfund have remained relatively steady at -$1.3 billion to $1.5 billion, regardless of the amount in the trust fund. In fact, in 1996 when the trust fund balance was at its highest, the congressional appropriation was at its lowest since 1990.

While the Superfund continues to clean up sites at a steady pace, the effort needed to finish the remaining sites has grown. Sites not yet completed are bigger, costlier and more complex, often involving multiple cleanup projects. Fifty-four percent of EPA's long-term cleanup budget in fiscal 2003 was dedicated to work at eight Superfund sites. To address this issue, the president's 2004 budget requested $150 million in additional funding for Superfund cleanup construction.

Facts show that the majority of Superfund sites continue to be paid for by the polluter and that appropriations have remained relatively constant regardless of the balance in the Superfund Trust Fund.

The Superfund program must adapt to address the changing nature of contaminated sites so that it continues to protect communities from the threats posed by toxic waste sites. Protection of human health and the environment remains the ultimate measure of success.

Marianne Lamont Horinko is an assistant administrator in the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response in Washington, D.C.