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Minnesota considers revamping environmental laws.

Responding to a report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) entitled Alternatives to Superfund for Landfill Cleanup, the Minnesota legislature considered legislation that would provide alternatives to Superfund for cleaning up contamination coming from multiple contributor municipal solid waste landfills.

The report, which was conducted at the request of the Minnesota legislature, found that one-third of Minnesota's 180 Superfund sites are landfills. By and large, the more serious landfill problems have already been addressed and few of the landfills needing attention have received documented hazardous waste from large industrial hazardous waste generators.

In fact, recent MPCA investigations show that for some landfills, contamination comes solely from municipal solid waste. The projected cost of containment for these landfill sites ranges from $250 to $400 million. The dollar amount may not seem great to those from larger states. One way to put the amount in context is to note that Minnesota consumes two percent of the gross national product and this two percent has generated a cleanup bill well in excess of the remaining $250- $400 million cost.

When problem waste comes from many small generators, rather than from a few large ones, the efficiency of the Superfund law for landfill cleanup breaks down. MPCA estimates that the requests for information at a traditional site range is from one to 20, while those at landfills range from five to 350. Further, MPCA estimates that the number or requests for response actions issued to potential responsible parties identified after one year of investigation at a traditional site range from one to three, while those at a landfill are from one to 42.

In its Alternatives to Superfund for Landfill cleanup report, the MPCA recommended that landfills meeting specified criteria be exempted from the strict, joint, and several liability provisions of Superfund and that a separate cleanup program and fund be created. The MPCA's recommendations were incorporated into bills introduced in both the House and Senate this last session.

In general, facilities would be qualified for the program if they stopped accepting waste by October 9, 1993. Those that are currently implementing agreements with MPCA and those governed by the federal Superfund law would not qualify. Owners and operators would continue to be responsible for proper closure and post-closure care except for collection and analysis of water samples. The MPCA would provide grants for closure costs above the amount for which a county is liable and loans for those counties that need to close landfills to make them eligible for the cleanup program.

The proposed legislation required the MPCA to develop a landfill cleanup program that uses the same environmental and public health standards as Superfund. It further authorized MPCA to develop generic work plans so that detailed work plans need not be redone for each landfill.

Although we were unable to approve this legislation, a related measure was enacted this year that will require the MPCA to inspect each potentially qualified landfill, determine the closure actions needed, and set priorities for cleanups at the qualified landfills based on the same general criteria used for setting priorities at Superfund sites.

Without doubt, it was our inability to fund the new program that stalled the proposed legislation this year. There seemed to be a general and strong consensus of support for the landfill cleanup program itself, although portions of the program may be subject to negotiation if the bill is reintroduced and gets closer to passage next year.

Three funding proposals have been given consideration. One, some type of surcharge on garbage was rejected by both chief authors. Steep costs for disposal are already creating a marked increase in litter. Further, many jurisdictions in Minnesota have yet to incorporate the full cost of current disposal into their fee structures. Another garbage fee is simply not realistic.

The Senate author proposed a surcharge on some property casualty insurance policies. The specifics are being developed. The House author proposed a tax on the 28 "priority toxics" that, to date, have been found in leachate collected from 50 percent of the landfills tested under state rules. The tax would be based on the weight of the priority toxics used in products that are sold in Minnesota and would be levied on the first importer. Manufacturers would be required to inform first importers of the amount of each priority toxic.

There is sufficient interest in funding the alternative to Superfund for landfills that other funding proposals are now being developed.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Prescribing Change for Superfund Law
Author:Wagenius, Jean
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 25, 1992
Previous Article:National municipal policy on Superfund.
Next Article:EPA official hears cities's woes.

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