Efforts to reform the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup law are in their seventh year. At this rate, more effective legislation may arrive about when the last toxic site is dredged and drained.
Fundamental to reform are simplified liability rules so that the litigation dam hindering cleanups can be broken. This is a touchy question, however, and the basic standard that "polluters pay" shouldn't be diluted.
Rep. Sherman Boehlert (R) of New York, chairman of the House Commerce, Finance, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, vows reform will pass this year. We hope he's right. The Clinton administration should work with him on this, though it has not put Superfund reform in its own agenda - arguing, instead, that recent administrative changes are adequate.
They have helped. But wider changes are needed. We look for measures that will prudently balance hastened cleanup and reduced liability.
Meanwhile, taxes on industries with a history of polluting must be renewed this year to sustain the Superfund trust fund.
Superfund is a difficult but critical tool, and it has accomplished much since enactment two decades ago. But it could work a lot better.