Pushing For Superfund Reform

Building on its tough stand on fairness and social responsibility in siting new pollution management facilities and cleaning up contaminated sites, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has joined the clamor for overall Superfund reform. And it's working with like-minded partners in the business community.

In a letter last October, NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. told Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.), that the organization wants Congress to eliminate retroactive liability and to levy new taxes on business and industry.

The letter revealed an eight-point Superfund reform proposal developed by the NAACP, Olin Corp. and a successor to Crum and Foster Insurance, Talegen Holdings.

Urging "fundamental reform" as the only realistic way to address the obvious defects in the Superfund law, Chavis' letter included a recurring and popular theme: "The present program seems to serve no one's interests other than lawyers' interests."

As the authors of the plan see it, the Superfund program must concentrate on public health and the environment instead of "battles over who will pay."

For starters, the public health objective would be better served by improving site screening, concentrating on public health testing, speeding emergency removal and substituting new systems for hazard-ranking and spending priorities, according to the plan.

In addition, to pay for more efficient cleanups, the plan calls for new kinds of taxes, assessments and other special contributions from the business sector.

The plan also recommends a cleanup priority system that, say proponents, would do a better job of going after waste sites that present the greatest risks to both public health and the environment.

Under the plan, EPA would select an appropriate cleanup remedy based on its effectiveness (considering land use and available technology) and not its cost.

The plan criticized the current liability scheme as a "site-by-site fund-raising system" and suggested replacing it with broadbased taxes on business. However, the authors favor keeping prospective liability provisions to promote proper waste management practices.

The plan recommends that public and community participation begin right from the start and continue until the cleanup is complete. Such participation would give minority businesses a share of site cleanup contracts.

Overall, the plan would integrate Superfund with programs and resources at other federal agencies, channeling funds from, for example, Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development into areas with serious environmental problems.

"The question before us is: What is right and what will work?" Chavis wrote hopefully. "Let us decide that, and political viability will follow," Chavis concluded about Congress passing his plan.

Print Dollars Instead of Paper. Paper recyclers in Wisconsin did not think that being part of the "green" movement literally meant them having to ante up money - until they saw the state's new water permit rules.

Last September, the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a wastewater permit regulation that links discharge permit fees to wastewater quality.

"Recycling operations typically generate higher amounts of [biochemical oxygen demand] and total suspended solids per ton of production than mills that do not use waste paper as a fiber source," said David Guenther, who manages environmental affairs for P.H. Glatfelter Co.

Guenther's remarks, which were part of a letter he wrote to state environmental officials, have created a flap.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Paper Council, a paper industry group, said that Guenther's comments have put the spotlight on the plight of companies that buy pulp from mills that use recycled fiber.

James E. Tiefenthaler, a member of the State Natural Resources Board which approved the rule, conceded a possible inadvertent mistake. "If we are discouraging recycling, that's wrong," he said. He described the situation as a "Catch-22" for companies. "[W]e are punishing people for recycling and, at the same time, requiring them to recycle."

Apparently, the state environmental officials never examined the possibility that papermaking operations using recycled feedstock create more pollutants than facilities that use virgin pulp. The Department of Natural Resources' Office of Technical Services says that it now plans to see if Guenther's claim has any scientific merit.

When the Natural Resources Board approved the rule, it also asked the DNR staff and the Paper Council to submit the proposals for change. The proposals, which are certain to include an accommodation for companies that use recycled raw materials, are due next month.