Contaminated Lands

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 8:00pm

Objective

Encourage the private cleanup and development of contaminated property and limit federal involvement in the cleanup to sites that present an immediate threat to public health or the environment.

Summary of the Issue

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), enacted in 1980, created the Superfund, a pool of money to be used for remediating contaminated properties. However, the Superfund program is slow, ineffective, very expensive, and has managed to address very few sites. Historically, a relatively small percentage of money in the Superfund program is actually applied to site cleanup. Rather, the funds are used to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 5,000 Superfund employees and litigation costs related to Superfund. Businesses interested in redeveloping these sites are often prevented from doing so, even if they in no way contributed to the contamination, by unreasonable liability and cleanup standards that have raised the average cost of cleanup to more than $20 million per site, much of it in legal fees. As a result, more than 20 years after CERCLA's enactment, cleanup is only now concluding at the original Superfund sites. At numerous other sites, cleanup has only just begun. The result is a continued glut of contaminated properties.

Passage of the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (SBLRBRA) has started the process of needed reform. However, its protections only provide part of the solution, and do not fully address lingering liabilities at treatment, storage, and disposal facilities that are covered by the corrective action provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The failure to fully cover these RCRA sites continues to be a needless deterrent for the transfer and redevelopment of distressed urban properties known as brownfields.

U.S. Chamber Strategy

  • Encourage the creation, development, and enhancement of state response programs for the rapid and efficient cleanup of contaminated sites.
  • Work to enact comprehensive Superfund reform legislation.
  • Work to implement the SBLRBRA and to include increased funding for brownfields cleanups.
  • Fight to ensure that cleanups completed under state brownfields programs are final, and that EPA reexamination of the sites is prohibited if the final cleanups are in compliance with state law.
  • Work to expand SBLRBRA type protections to RCRA corrective action facilities.
  • Continue to lead the fight against reinstatement of the Superfund tax.

Staff Contact Information

Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs Division
(202) 463-5533
environment@uschamber.com