Act now on the superfund for toxic wastes

We urge Congress to move expeditiously to pass legislation establishing a "superfund" for cleaning up abandoned toxic waste sites and oil and chemical spills. The House had already enacted a $2 billion package for such a fund. The Senate has been considering a stiffer $4 billion package, but, as of this writing, has been toying with a possible compromise closer to the dollar figure of the House version.

Ironically, the congressional debate is taking place the same week that a new federal waste monitoring system goes into effect. Mandated by Congress back in 1976, the new program requires all hazardous chemical wastes to be placed in approved treatment and storage sites. But as the week began some firms were reportedly dumping tons of toxic wastes wherever they could -- to dispose of the noxious residue before the new monitoring system went into effect.

That unconscionable action alone speakes volumes about why Congress must quickly establish a superfund. Industry by itself clearly cannot be entrusted with the task of ensuring safe sites and cleaning up spills.

Some months back, we came down on the side of the stronger Senate bill. All things being equal, it would still be our preference. But the political realities, as the chemical industry has noted, have changed with the election of a more conservative president and Senate. For that reason the modest House approach now seems more feasible. Industry, sensing the possibility of a "more sympathetic ear" next year, as Congressman James Florio describes it, is now opposing even the House version -- a version that until the past few weeks it apparently was willing to accept.

Under the House approach, the chemical and oil industries would contribute 75 percent of the cleanup fund, with the remainder absorbed by the federal government. Damage suits could be brought againist violators. Some $1.2 billion would be allotted to the fund over a four-year period. Meantime, $750 million would be applied toward cleaning up oil and chemical spils on waterways.

The House version should be the minimum level of financial compromise -- enlisting industry to assume a collective responsibility for past and any future contamination on the enviornment.

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