American Enterprise Institute
June 18, 2005
Washington , D.C.
Becky Norton Dunlop
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. I am grateful to AEI for sponsoring this meeting. The subject is an important one to those of us who have responsibility for administering natural resource agencies at the state level.
Let me begin by giving a short answer to the question of how to repair the extensive malfunctions of the Superfund program-turn the entire program over to the states-just write me a check and I’ll be on my way back to Richmond.
When I was first appointed by Governor George Allen to serve as Secretary, there had been legislation passed in the Virginia’s General Assembly to revert the entire administration of the Superfund program back to EPA.
I examined the situation and concluded that given the onerous administrative responsibilities put on us by EPA, while giving us little to no authority, that there was nothing to be gained by the Commonwealth investing dollars in staff to serve as an administrative arm of the EPA. So, Virginia doesn’t have a Superfund office. That is not to say the problem has been fixed-not even close-we’ve simply cut our losses slightly.
The real fixing of the Superfund program is yet to come. And the reauthorization of the Superfund program in the context of a Republican controlled Congress provides us a unique opportunity for change. As those of us who deal with this program on a regular basis are well aware, the current program is fatally flawed.
The horror stories about Superfund clean-ups are far too easy to come by-we’ve all heard the stories of millions spent for nothing gained. In fact, just yesterday, as I cruised the Elizabeth River with a civic group focused on improving the condition of their river, I heard of two more accounts of Superfund meltdown. I won’t bore you with the all-too-familiar details, but let me just give you a synopsis of the one I found particularly troubling.
As we cruised down the Elizabeth River, we passed what was described as a site on the National Priorities List (a.k.a. Superfund site). The person who was overseeing the “clean up” from the corporation that owns the site and is financing its remediation, was happy to report to me that in March of this year they had repaired a cracked and leaking stormwater drain using a somewhat innovative technique of lining it with a single fiberglass pipe. The project took only three weeks.
This sounds impressive, but it was nine years from the time the Administrative Consent Order was signed until this first corrective action was taken. For nine years this corporation was engaged in the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) process with EPA. Several million dollars were spent on consultants and lawyers, and worst of all, for nine years contaminants from the site continued to flow into the Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay through a leaking storm drain that ultimately took three weeks to fix. I often say that excessive federal regulation is injurious to the environment and Superfund is the proof.
Since the Superfund law was enacted in 1980, 1296 sites have been listed and only about 150 have been cleaned up at a cost of nearly $30 billion. I dare say that states could engage in many actions to remediate our most challenging sites for $30 billion.
Superfund was created to address past hazardous waste management practices, before 1980. The list should now be complete. And so with states administering the program, as our problematic sites are remediated, we would be able to let corporations and individuals keep some of that money and invest it in new technologies designed to enhance our environment -an incentive that would encourage states to proceed quickly and effectively with clean ups.
The Superfund program must be turned over to the states. Don’t delegate it, don’t defer it, turn it over to us. The granting of authority to states must go beyond the traditional notions of program delegation. We can administer this program with greater equity, practicality and certainly more cost effectively.
Former EPA Administrator William Reilly is credited with saying that Superfund is the worst piece of legislation ever enacted by the U.S. Congress. There is no question that it makes the top 10 list. The law lacks some of the most basic principles of sound environmental policy:
• there is no connection with people-our most important natural resource
• it doesn’t depend on sound science in application of risk assessment, remediation techniques and innovative technologies
• it denies the fact that our natural resources are resilient and dynamic
• it ignores that environmental problems are site and situation specific and require site and situation specific solutions
States have taken the lead on this issue. Virginia has recently enacted a Voluntary Remediation/Environmental Audit law. We believe this law will serve us well in Virginia. The cleanup process will be streamlined, the regulatory approach is non-confrontational and emphasis is placed on achieving compliance-not heavy-handed enforcement actions.
When I took office, I promised that I would never asked another level of government to take the heat for an environmental regulation if I believed it was the right thing to do. I still maintain that promise. At the same time, Virginia will not, nor should other states, cower from their obligation to speak up when public policy is off track; the taxpayers are not getting the most for their money; and wrongheaded environmental regulations are placing needless burdens on business, industry and individuals.
Thank you very much for your attention, I would be happy to take questions.