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EENR group focuses on Superfund issues at meeting.

Superfund, the nation's hazardous waste site clean up law, was a major focus for discussion by the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Steering Committee at their meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C. May 27 and 28.

Based on priorities established by the EENR Policy Committee in March, the Steering Committee under the leadership of Minneapolis Councilmember Steve Cramer, began a review of a variety of viewpoints on the future of Superfund. The Steering Committee heard differing local government points of view as well as the perspective of representatives of industry as well as a spokesman for EPA.

While there was general agreement among the speakers that Congress needs to review the current liability scheme, panelists had differing viewpoints on alternative funding arrangements for clean up of Superfund sites and on other major Superfund reauthorization issues.

Susan Thornton, Council President from Littleton, Colo. spoke on behalf of American Communities for Cleanup Equity and advocated continued NLC support for passage of pending federal legislation which would exempt municipal transporters and generators of municipal solid waste and sewage sludge from third party liability at Superfund sites. "Congress never intended for municipalities to be strictly, jointly and severally liable under Superfund for collecting trash," she said.

Steve Alfred, Town Manager for Kingstown, R.I. criticized both the "strict, joint and several liability" scheme in current law and EPA's municipal settlements policy which he said has not addressed the municipal owner/operator [of Superfund sites] liability issue. EPA's "failure to address the fact that many municipalities operated landfills on a nonprofit basis, in accord with prevailing state rules and regulations as a public service, is a direct assault on the financial well being of these innocent communities," he told the steering committee.

EPA's proposed Municipal Settlements Policy, allocating transporters and generators of municipal solid waste a four percent share of liability, "adversely affects municipal landfill owners/operators," Alfred said, "since many municipal landfills served more than one community. Theoretically, a community could operate a municipal landfill and serve 12 surrounding cities and towns. Should the site become listed on the National Priorities List, the 12 'user' communities could 'buy out' their combined liability for site cleanup at four percent of total site remediation costs, while the 'host' community, which may have done nothing different than the 12 user communities, could be held responsible for the remaining 96 percent of site cleanup costs."

Also making presentations to the Steering Committee were Jan Edelstein, representing AIG (American Insurance Group) and Linda Christenson, representing the Landfill Solutions Group (a coalition of private and public interests).

Edelstein told the Steering Committee that the insurance industry is proposing the creation of a National Environmental Trust Fund Project to raise additional revenues for Superfund site clean up. The proposed trust fund, raised by imposing a two percent surcharge on business premiums and increasing the corporate environmental tax, would be intended to replace litigation as the major tool for funding of site clean up. Funds made available by this new trust fund would be available for clean up of old hazardous waste sites. The current law, Edelstein said, is not making the "polluter pay."

Christenson said the Landfill Solutions Group is also proposing an increase in the corporate environmental tax. The group proposes to separate municipal sites from the Superfund program and authorize states to manage municipal clean up activities. Municipal clean up activity would be at least partially funded from revenues raised as a consequence of the additional corporate tax.

Committee members also heard from Bruce Diamond with EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Diamond told the committee that EPA has made much progress in cleaning up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites. The agency, he said, has obtained "legally binding commitments for over $1 billion per year" for clean up activities from responsible parties.

In addition to the Interim Municipal Settlements Policy, under which EPA determined that, in most cases, it would not pursue transporters and generators of municipal solid waste for contribution costs at Superfund sites, EPA will soon issue a new policy on "de minimis" settlements. The recently proposed municipal settlements policy is "under review," he said. "No decision has been made nor is it expected in the foreseeable future."

Diamond also explained that EPA does not believe allocating clean up costs on the basis of toxicity [which is current NLC policy] is workable. "The implicit assumption" in such an allocation of liability, he said, "is that the industrial share [of waste in a given facility] is 100% toxic." Deborah Louison, Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, Depart of Energy, provided the Committee with an overview of the House and Senate energy legislation and warned that many of the mandates contained in the comprehensive energy legislation may lack funding for implementation.

Cramer told Louison that the Administration and Congress, "may be overestimating where cities are in incorporating alternatively fueled vehicles into municipal fleets." Both the Senate and House bills contain provisions which would require cities to purchase alternatively fueled vehicles.

The Committee also heard from Tom Farkas, Manager of Residential Programs, Edison Electric Institute. Farkas provided the Committee with an overview of existing and emerging technology aimed at improving energy efficiency in houses. Committee members expressed concern about the impact of improved energy efficiency on affordable housing. Although energy saving technology saves homeowners money over the long-run, many of the materials used to achieve greater energy efficiency drive up the initial cost of housing, making energy efficient housing too expensive.

In addition to reviewing the Superfund and energy issues, the Steering Committee plans to address issues affecting global warming, to refine further NLC's policy on market development for recyclables, to deal with prioritization of environmental mandates, and to discuss the impact of hazardous waste contamination in areas--such as old industrial areas or newly closed federal facilities--with potential for economic development.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities' Steering Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources
Author:Kocheisen, Carol; Yamane, Sandra
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 8, 1992
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