US Hazardous Waste Grade: D+
Superfund is the common name for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. Where responsible parties cannot be found, the Agency is authorized to clean up sites itself, using a special trust fund. There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500 million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites await cleanup and redevelopment. The American Society of Civil Engineers has prepared a report card on the state of the nation on this matter and have given us a D+.
During more than a century of industrial development in the United States, large volumes of hazardous waste were generated and disposed of, often in an environmentally unsound manner for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of knowledge, existing government and industry policies, and cost.
The National Priority List (NPL), maintained by the EPA, lists the known sites that release or threaten release of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories. The NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.
Since 1980, the EPA has investigated more than 47,000 sites suspected of releasing hazardous substances into the environment. Just over 1,600 sites have been placed on the NPL, and cleanup has been implemented at more than two-thirds of those sites.
The EPA is also charged with identifying the parties responsible for contamination of NPL sites and enforcing the cleanup of sites. Organizations that EPA has deemed potentially responsible parties have funded cleanup of more than 70% of the sites on the NPL, at an estimated value of nearly $30 billion. That still leaves a lot of sites that are not funded by responsible parties. The reasons for this are many but include the party no longer exists or has no money.
Even as needs have grown, annual congressional appropriations for Superfund have declined by 40% since its peak of $2 billion in 1998. The Superfund program has in the past received funding from two sources: general funds from the U.S.Treasury and balances in the Superfund trust fund. Prior to 1996, revenues for the trust fund came from dedicated excise taxes and an environmental corporate income tax. Those taxes expired in December 1995 and have not be replaced.
Hazardous waste cleanup is a long, hard and expensive process. It might be done better but at the end there is a need for money to spent on the process.
To do better, there must be funding. Examples include re-authorization of the federal Superfund taxes on chemicals, petroleum, and corporations or create another federal funding mechanism as well as creating economic incentive programs that consider environmental costs and encourage hazardous waste reduction for future hazardous waste situations.
For further information see Report Card.
Landfill image via Wikipedia