Policy Study

Cleaning Up Superfund

The Case for State Environmental Leadership

Executive Summary

The nation has a number of programs dealing with the cleanup of contaminated waste sites. Among the more important are the federal Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action, underground storage tank, and various state superfund-type programs.

The Superfund program has been, by far, the most visible of the nation’s site remediation programs. It has been highly controversial almost from its inception in 1980, with most comments on Superfund being quite negative. Only about 250 of 1,300 sites have been cleaned up in the past 15 years, and a large fraction of expenditures has been used for legal proceedings. Congressional hearings are now underway with the goal of amending and reauthorizing the statute this year.

Unlike most federal environmental programs, an alternative approach to Superfund is already in place and appears to be doing a much better job; this approach involves the 40-plus state superfund-type programs. Briefly, many of the state programs are cleaning up sites at a fraction of the time and cost of the federal Superfund.

For example, the states are spending about $700 million annually working on about 11,000 sites, while the EPA spends approximately $1 billion annually dealing with about 1,000 sites.

In this paper, both the federal Superfund program as well as key state activities are briefly reviewed. Then, key how-to steps are provided with the goal of turning much of Superfund over to willing and able states. Specific recommendations are proposed for state certification, funding provisions, EPA’s continued role, and modification of the Superfund statute.