Superfund Spins Legal Costs Out of Control

Regarding the Economy page article "Businesses Hit by Superfund Costs," July 2: As the thousands of businesses like my own know too well, the torrent of lawsuits resulting from Superfund is a direct consequence of its flawed retroactive liability system. In the 13 years of Superfund's existence, it has wasted billions of dollars in legal costs and slowed cleanup to a crawl.

Under this system, anyone connected to a site can be held liable for the entire cost of cleanup. Superfund sweeps up thousands of innocent parties - businesses, local governments, even completely blameless purchasers of polluted land. Faced with the threat of ruinous unlimited liability, most parties have little choice but to litigate. Almost half of Superfund's total resources are diverted away from cleanup to pay for such wasteful legal action.

We must find a solution that gets the country cleaned up. One proposal that would solve Superfund's problem is called the National Environmental Trust Fund (NETF). The NETF would replace Superfund's failed liability system for old sites with a fund earmarked solely for cleanup, paid into by a broad spectrum of businesses across all economic sectors. This common-sense plan would virtually eliminate the web of litigation costs that tangle our environmental efforts under Superfund.

Businesses would continue to pay the lion's share of cleanup costs, but on a more predictable basis. Liability incentives would be left in place to deter the creation of future waste sites.

With Superfund up for reauthorization during the current session of Congress, the time is ripe for a fresh start. Efficient cleanup of America's toxic waste sites hinges on redesigning Superfund. By ending the legal warfare that now characterizes Superfund, adoption of a proposal like the NETF could provide the biggest "peace dividend" of the 1990s - a cleaner environment for all of us. Roger R. Phillips, Seabrook, N.H. President, Bailey Corporation

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