When Superfund Points Finger, Small Firms Tend to Shelve Future Investment Decisions

`IT is un-American and unfair.'' ``Allows lawyers to `shotgun' everyone.'' ``Why should I pay for cleanup of someone else's mess?''

These comments, reported in a survey of small businesses facing Superfund liability, sum up the attitude toward the federal toxic-waste cleanup program.

The survey, conducted by William Wetzel Jr. and Jeffrey Sohl of the University of New Hampshire for the American Council for Capital Formation, took a sampling of 5,000 small businesses implicated in cleanups.

The authors concluded that being named a ``potentially responsible party'' in a Superfund cleanup ``could have a material long-term adverse effect on the most productive job-generating segment of the economy.''

The study found that:

* Almost 40 percent of respondents said their status as a ``potentially responsible party'' reduced or delayed investment in plant and equipment.

* More than 25 percent reported higher ``hurdle rates'' - the required rate of return on new investments - after taking on liability for Superfund. ``Higher capital costs for these small firms will translate into less investment and slower economic growth,'' the report said.

* More than half said senior management spent roughly one business day a month on Superfund-related matters in the last five years.

* Almost 40 percent said being tapped with potential Superfund liability made it harder to receive bank credit.

* About 70 percent named Superfund's liability scheme as the program's No. 1 problem. Liability is strict and retroactive, meaning a firm can be tapped to pay for cleanup of waste that was dumped legally and before Superfund was enacted in 1980. In addition, each liable party may be held responsible for the entire cost of cleanup.

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