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Subcommittee Kills Florio’s Superfund Bill

June 20, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A House subcommittee handed its chairman a major defeat Thursday, killing his ″Superfund″ bill and agreeing to consider a compromise measure that environmentalists say threatens the toxic dump cleanup program.

On a series of 13-5 votes, the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce refused to even discuss the $10.1 billion proposal brought to the table by Chairman James Florio, D-N.J.

Instead, the panel’s majority decided to debate a measure offered by Rep. Dennis Eckart, D-Ohio, that Florio said guts a key provision of current law and is weaker in many respects than a bill passed overwhelmingly by the House last year.

The action, coming with only 42 days remaining on Congress’ work calendar before the present Superfund law expires Sept. 30, raised questions about whether a five-year extension of the program can be accomplished this year.

Florio, who adjourned the subcommittee meeting without announcing a date to take up the Eckart bill, conceded afterward that Superfund supporters are discussing the option of simply trying to extend the current law for a year.

The Eckart bill, with a funding level of $10 billion - up from the current five-year spending of $1.6 billion - is a reworked version of draft legislation produced by three powerful men in the Superfund process: Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Billy Tauzin, D- La., and Rep. James Broyhill, R-N.C., the committee’s ranking Republican.

Eckart said that while he does not favor all of its provisions, he helped arrange the compromise because the Dingell forces had the votes in subcommittee and ″Superfund was going to suffer a serious defeat.″

As starters, he said, the Dingell faction was pushing for a smaller increase in the program and without compromise on other issues, ″the train was leaving the station and it had only $7 billion on it.″

Absent from the Eckart bill was language in Florio’s proposal to follow a mandatory cleanup schedule for the Environmental Protection Agency; setting mandatory cleanup standards; allowing citizens to sue polluters to force cleanups; and allowing states to have their own laws requiring dump operators to tell communities about toxic chemicals in their facilities.

Florio said the Eckart proposal would cause the ″self-destruction of Superfund″ because it would cut off federal money in two years to states lacking approved dump sites required under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Predicting ″an end to Superfund in two years,″ Florio said no state now meets this test and that even EPA Administrator Lee Thomas agrees that none would be able to meet it within two years.

He also said the Eckart bill retreats from current law in that EPA would have discretion to decide how extensive a Superfund dump cleanup should be. Currently, when Superfund dump toxics are moved to another site, that site must meet RCRA standards, he said.

Florio said that in many instances, the Eckart bill adopts Superfund changes requested by the Reagan administration and ″institutionalizes those procedures that resulted in what we have today - nothing.″

The compromise proposal was branded a ″major retreat″ from last year’s House bill by three environmental groups, the National Audubon Society, the National Campaign Against Toxic Hazards and the Sierra Club.

Eckart said opponents of the compromise were ″not paying attention to reality,″ referring to the subcommittee votes against them and the approaching deadline. He said proponents of stronger legislation were ″playing brinksmanship. We either move forward or we perish.″