Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
October 25, 1995
Superfund Cleanup Standards Reconsidered
The reauthorization of the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as
Superfund, has focused on two major areas of reform: liability, and cleanup
standardslremedy selection. This report focuses on the latter. Within that
general topic, six issues that have received attention from a number of
stakeholders are discussed in this report: the role of risk assessment; costeffectiveness of treatment; complete or partial elimination of what are called
ARARs (the statutory requirement that Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate
Requirements from other laws be applied to Superfund site cleanups) and
elimination of the statute's preference for permanence and treatment: future
land use considerations; the role of the States; and community involvement in
the remedy selection process. The report contains brief summaries of the
pertinent provisions of the leading House and Senate bills late in the first
session of the 104th Congress.
To address the criticism that the Superfund program favors excessively
costly remedies, some critics call for changes to the Environmental Protection
Agency's (EPA's) risk assessment procedures and for an increased role of risk
assessment in the remedy selection process. Other recommended reforms
include establishing a single national risk criterion for cleanup decisions rather
than the current use of risk ranges. Some suggest elevating the importance of
cost in EPA's evaluation of alternative cleanup strategies. Cost is currently
considered in evaluating alternatives; however, critics claim that the statute's
defersrre tc AGi& and its preference for permanence and treatment have led
to high cleanup costs. The reliance on ARARs for determining site specific
cleanup standards has been cited as causing lengthy debates over which Federal
or State regulations (or combinations thereof) apply to a site, and selection of
more costly remedies than are necessary to protect human health and the
Stakeholders who advocate elevating the role of risk assessment in the
remedy selection decisionmaking process also urge increased consideration of a
Superfund site's future land and water use. Many of these stakeholders
advocate that State and local governments, rather than EPA, decide future land
and groundwater use. The current system of shared Federal and State
responsibility leads to delay, duplication of effort, confusion amongstakeholders;
and higher transaction costs, critics claim. Some States want full Superfund
authority; others want delegation of the Federal program. Some stakeholders
are in favor of full authority for the States, while others are concerned about
the burden on businesses that responding to as many as 50 programs would
create. Community involvement in decisionmaking is a further locus of
Though often heavily criticized, since its passage, Superfund has improved
management of hazardous wastes to protect human health and the environment.
Lisa Gray prepared this report as an American Society of Mechanical
Engineers1American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Congressional
Science Fellow, working within the Environment and Natural Resources Policy
Division of the Congressional Research Service during the summer of 1995.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
CLEANUP STANDARDS ..WHAT THE CURRENT LAW REQUIRES . . 5
THE ROLE O F RISK ASSESSMENT
COST-EFFECTIVENESS O F TREATMENT
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
ARARs AND PREFERENCE FOR PERMANENCE AND TREATMENT . 13
FUTURE LAND, GROUNDWATER AND RESOURCE USE
THE ROLE O F STATES IN THE REMEDY SELECTION PROCESS
COMMUNITY IPUT70LVEMENT IN REMEDY SELECTION PROCESS . 21
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Superfund Cleanup Standards Reconsidered
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act of 1980 (CERCLA)', also known as Superfund and administered by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), provides for cleanup, and emergency
response for hazardous substances released into the environment, cleanup of
inactive hazardous waste disposal sites, and for retroactive, strict, joint and
several liability for potentially responsible parties (PRPs).
The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA)
revised and expanded CERCLA and introduced new cleanup standards into the
program in a n attempt by Congress to add statutory language which would
clarify for Federal officials and PRPs appropriate cleanup remedies t o be selected
for contaminated sites. The intent was t o improve the quality and pace of site
I n 1995; t h e cleanup of hazardous waste sites is slow. Many believe t h a t
changes t o the program are needed t o speed up the pace. Changes to the
program can improve administrative aspects of cleanup; however, actual
progress will still be largely dependent on technological capabilities. The
current debate on the reauthorization of Superfund has focused on two major
areas of reform: liability, and cleanup standardslremedy election.^ This report
discusses existing cleanup standards, and recommendations and proposals for
change offered by stakeholders in this debate. This report relies primarily on
proceedings from congressional hearings of three subcommittees with
jurisdiction over Superfund authorization, namely: Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control;
and Risk Assessment; House Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on
Commerce, Trade, and Hazardous Materials; and House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and
Environment. The House Ways and Means and t h e Senate Finance Committees
have jurisdiction over Superfund's taxing and trust fund provisions, which are
not discussed in this report.
' 42 USC 9601-9675
This report does not discuss liability issues. See Congressional Research Service
Issue Brief IB95013, SuperJllnd Reauthorization Issues in the 104th Congress, latest
revision, for a discussion of liability and other issues.
While SARA has brought additional statutory requirements forth, further
defining the question of "How clean is clean?", it has also opened up a new
debate. Among the questions being asked during the debate are:
Should cleanup decisions be based more on risk assessment
considerations and less on fixed numerical criteria, such as drinking
water standards for ground water?
Is the statute's preference for treatment and permanent solutions
How much weight should the cost of a remediation be given in the
Should cleanup decisions be based on a single or a range of health risk
Do scientists have the capability to accurately predict health effects
from various levels of exposure for all who may come in direct or
indirect contact with a hazardous substance?
SARA'S cleanup standards provisions have been criticized since their
enactment in 1986. The law's current lack of a national uniform level of
cleanup has proved to be a major source of controversy for the Superfund
program. The 1995 reauthorization debate has provided a forum for
stakeholders to outline their recommendations and proposals for reform. The
following issues have arisen in the debate and are discussed in this report: the
role of risk assessment; cost-effectiveness of treatment; the role of the States;
elimination of applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARs) and
preference for treatment and permanence; future land, groundwater and other
resource use; and community involvement in the remedy selection process. The
following paragraphs outline some stakeholder concerns with the current
program and their suggestions for reform.
EPA and the States determine cleanup standards for each site based on
statutory requirements and preferences, and based on A m , which are State
and Federal laws and regulations determined to be applicable, or relevant and
appropriate. EPA uses risk assessments to set cleanup levels if no standards
have been established for the contaminants at the site.
The selection of applicable, relevant and appropriate laws and regulations
is highly discretionary because each site has its own set of unique conditions
which must be evaluated. Many have argued that this and other factors have
led to confusion about which cleanup levels are required, cleanup costs that are
often high, and sites that have been cleaned to different risk goals. One possible
solution, offered by a number of stakeholders, is placing more emphasis on risk
assessment (and eliminating the ARARs requirement) when determining how
clean a site should be rendered (hereinafter referred to as cleanup level). The
elimination of the statute's ARARs requirement would result in less costly site
remediations and savings to the Superfund program, critics claim. Some would
also like to see modification of EPA's risk assessment methods to reduce reliance
on what they see as overly protective assumptions and models.
The Superfund program has also been criticized as being too slow in
achieving its goal. Delays have been attributed to the statute's ambiguity
regarding cleanup levels, as well as other factors. To address this issue, some
participants in the Superfund reform debate advocate establishing a single,
national risk management goal which would also provide equal protection from
hazardous waste for all communities.
Potentially responsible parties have complained that EPA has little regard
for the cost-effectiveness of its selected remedies. CERCLA requires the
implementation of cost-effective remedial actions for contaminated sites;
however, it also requires that the degree of cleanup "at a minimum assures
One of the challenges of
protection of human health and the en~ironment."~
the current Superfund reauthorization effort is to calibrate these goals in
combination and produce workable solutions. Some reform proposals seek to
elevate the importance of cost considerations in the Superfund remedy selection
process. Others want to reduce costs by facilitating selection of remedies that
have historically been effective (often referred to as presumptive remedies).
Some have called for complete or partial elimination of the ARARs
requirement in order to streamline the process used to establish site cleanup
standards and to enable EPA to place heavier emphasis on risk assessment and
cost of a remedial action.
In addition to eliminating the ARARs requirement, critics call for the
elimination of the statutory preference for permanent treatment solutions.
Instead, they argue, cleanup decisions should be based on risk assessments and
cost considerations. Containment measures, institutional controls such as deed
restrictions, and treatment should be considered equally, they claim."ome
believe that a preference for treatment should be reserved for "hot spots" of
There is broad consensus that future land use must be considered in
determining the appropriate cleanup standard on which to base a remedial
design. Appropriate consideration of land use is expected to lead to more costeffective cleanups at a reasonable pace. Land use is currently considered in the
remedy selection process. However, critics claim that States and local
governments should have more input into future land use determinations.
Others argue that if cleanup decisions are not based on conservative land use
CERCLA, Section 121(di(l).
See e.g., Chemical Manufacturer's Association. Testimony submitted to the House
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: Subcommittee on Water Resources and
the Environment. SuperfkndReauthorization. June 20, 1995. Hearing, 104th Congress,
1st Session. Washington, D.C.: Govt. Print. Off. [to be printed].
assumptions (i.e., residential or recreational, as opposed to industrial),
communities which are located near non-residential areas, for example industrial
sites, will be at greater health risk than those communities which are not
located near such sites.
Some stakeholders claim that the current system of shared Federal and
State responsibility is responsible for delay, duplication of effort and confusion
among stakeholders. The issue is whether States should be given full program
authority or whether States should be given program delegation. program. Full
program authority would enable States with such authority to implement their
own versions of a Superfund program, while program delegation would give
States the authority to implement the Federal program. Others oppose any
increase in State responsibility.
The success of Superfund is measured not only by the number of sites
cleaned and the costs associated with running the program, but also by public
acceptance of treatment decisions which affect their communities. SARA
recognized the importance of community involvement with the introduction of
the Technical Assistance Grants (TAG) program. This year, suggestions for
reform of the program include increased and earlier community involvement in
the decision-making process, simplification of application procedures for TAGS?
elimination of the matching funds requirement, and elimination of some time
On October 18, 1995: Rep. Michael G. Oxley introduced H.R. 2500, the
Reform of Superfund Act of 1995. The comprehensive reauthorization bill
would set general standards for Superfund cleanup remedies to "protect human
health and the environment from realistic and significant risks through costeffective and cost-reasonable means." Remedies would be required to prevent
human ingestion of drinking water containing hazardous substances above the
Safe Drinking Water Act's maximum contaminant levels; or above the level
needed to protect human health from other contaminants. Reasonably available
site-specific data are to be used.
The bill would eliminate ARARs and CERCLA's preference for permanence
and treatment, and direct EPA (or the administering State agency) to consider
all cleanup options without preference or bias for any method. Proposed
remedies will consider future uses of land, water, and other resources. Sitespecific risk assessments must also be conducted. A remedy would be selected
after consideration of its effectiveness, reliability, the risks it presents,
community acceptance, and reasonableness of its cost compared to other
remedies. Generic remedies and institutional controls may be employed where
Sen. Robert Smith, chair of the Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk Assessment: introduced
S. 1285, the Accelerated Cleanup and Environmental Restoration Act of 1995 on
September 29. The bill would base cleanup decisions on the "actual or plausible
risks to human health and the environment," and would choose the most cost-
effective remedy that accomplishes that goaL5 Remedial actions would be
selected according to site-specific conditions and risks based on the reasonably
anticipated future use of the site.
The Smith bill also would eliminate the requirement t h a t remedial actions
meet ARARs; and it removes the preference for permanence and treatment. It
proposes a higher level of protection for groundwater t h a t is currently
uncontaminated, it would allow the de-listing and reuse of the uncontaminated
portions of Superfund sites, and it provides for expedited de-listing of sites
where construction is completed, but operation and maintenance activities
CLEANUP STANDARDS -- WHAT THE CURRENT LAW REQUIRES
The original Superfund statute included little guidance for regulators or
PRPs when evaluating alternatives for Superfund site cleanups. "Section
104(c)(4) of CERCLA required selection of remedial actions t h a t were in
accordance with the National Contingency Plan 'to the extent practicable' and
t h a t provided for 'cost-effective response which provides a balance between the
need for protection of the public health and welfare ... and the availability of
cleanup requirements proved to be
amounts from t h e fund ...."'"ERCLA's
subject to interpretation, and cleanup decisions were often subject to delay and
In 1986, SARA introduced new Superfund cleanup standards. The new
standards, which are in effect today, were Congress' attempt a t providing
statutory guidance on the question of "how clean is clean?" They required
compliance with ARARs, which are t h e "applicable or relevant and appropriate
requirements' which EPA and other agencies must comply with when
determining cleanup standards to be followed for wastes treated onsite.
CERCLA does not contain its own cleanup standards; rather, the statute relies
on ARARs to ensure that 1)response actions are protective of human health and
the environment, and 2) applicable State and Federal laws and regulations are
not violated during the cleanup procedure. Further, SARA required that
numerical standards derived from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA:] and
water quality criteria established under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
would be applicable to the cleanup process if determined relevant and
CERCLA, as amended, also states a strong preference for permanence and
treatment of wastes, and discourages off-site disposal options:
' Sen. Robert T. Smith.
Title-by-Title Summary. Congressional Record, Sept. 29,
1995. p. S 14736.
%ayes, David J.>and Conrad B. MacKerron. Superfund IZ: A hTew Mandate. The
Bureau of National Affairs, v. 17; no. 42, February 13: 1987. p. 37.
Remedial actions in which treatment which permanently and
significantly reduces the volume, toxicity or mobility of the hazardous
substances, pollutants, and contaminants is a principal element are to
be preferred over remedial actions not involving such treatment.7
For cases in which no ARARs have been established, CERCLA requires
selecting remedial actions that assure protection of human health and the
environment and that are relevant and appropriate.' In practice, cleanup levels
are generally chosen to protect users or receptors from unacceptable cancer and
non-cancer health risks or adverse environmental effects.' Such levels are
generally chosen to protect people at least to a level within the range of
10-Vl in 10;000 to 1in 1,000,000) lifetime cancer risk or below a predetermined
index for non- carcinogen^.'^
It was hoped that SARA would increase the quality and pace of waste
cleanups. Some progress has been made since 1986; however, there is general
agreement that the cleanup of hazardous waste sites remains slow." Today,
the debate focuses more on questions of economy, though it is recognized that
improvements in the quality and pace of cleanups must be pursued.
THE ROLE OF RISK ASSESSMENT
The Superfund cleanup standards and remedy selection process have been
broadly criticized by groups including the manufacturing and insurance
industries, local and State governments, Federal agencies involved in Superfund
cleanups, environmental and community groups, and members of the
engineering and scientific community."
Many believe that the current
' CERCLA Section 121 (d)(l)
' U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Office of Solid Waste and Emergency
ksponse. Guidance for Eualuating the Technical Impracticability of Ground-Water
Restoration. EPA/j40-R-93-080. September 1993. p. 9.
See, e.g., U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Public Works and Transportation,
Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Administration of the S u p e r f ~ n d
Program. House Report No. 103-35, 103d Congress; 1st Session. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 1993. p. 26.
See, e.g., Frank L. Parker, Ph.D.: Distinguished Professor of Environmental
Engineering, Vanderbilt University. Testimony submitted to the Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk
Assessment. Oversight Hearing Regarding the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensuiion, and Liability Act. May 9, 1995. 104th Congress, 1st Session.
Washington, D.C., Govt. Print. Off. [to be printed].
Superfund program favors excessively costly remedies and is responsible for the
slow pace of cleanups.
To address these problems, some critics would like to see changes in EPA's
risk assessment procedures as well as a larger role for risk assessment in the
remedy selection process. Other critics believe that EPA's current use of risk
ranges is unacceptable; they advocate the establishment of a single national risk
criterion for cleanup decisions.
Risk assessment is defined broadly as the determination, through formal or
informal scientific procedures: of probable health and other effects from
exposure to a potential danger (the term is also applied to the field underlying
and establishing such determinations). For purposes of this report, risk
assessment refers to various EPA methods for evaluating and comparing risks
a t Superfund sites.13
EPA currently uses risk assessment at several points in the Superfund
program. It first conducts rough risk assessments a t each site to determine
whether contaminants pose a current or potential threat to human health or the
environment. If EPA determines that a site poses a significant threat, it is
added to the National Priorities List (NPL). These risk assessments adhere to
methods detailed in the National Contingency Plan (NCP; codified a t 40 CFR
300). AppendixA to the NCP describes the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) as:
the principle mechanism the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) uses to place sites on the National Priorities List (h4'L). The
HRS serves as a screening device to evaluate the potential for releases
of uncontrolled hazardous substances to cause human health or
environmental damage. The HRS provides a measure of relative
rather than absolute risk. It is designed so that it can be consistently
applied to a wide variety of sites.14
For NPL sites risk assessment is then used to determine the necessary level
of cleanup and to evaluate appropriate cleanup remedies. The remedial
investigation and feasibility study (RIDS) phase of EPA's Superfund program,
established under CERCIA section 120(e), uses risk assessment to characterize
the nature and extent of risks posed by uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and
for evaluatingpotential remedy options. The remedial investigation (RI) gathers
information suff~cientto support a risk management decision, including likely
current and future risk associated with human exposures to releases from the
site. The feasibility study (FS) develops, screens, and evaluates alternative
remedial actions. It is during the FS phase that cleanup goals aimed a t
protecting human health and the environment are determined. Preliminary
l3 For more information about risk assessment see U.S. Libraly of Con,mss.
Congressional Research Service. Risk Analysis and Cost-Benefit Analysis of
Encironmental Regulations. Report No. 94-961 ESR. Washington, 1994.
40 C.F.R. Part 300; Appendix A. section 1.0.
remedial action objectives based on readily available information such as ARARs
and numerical criteria are developed first. The final remedial action objectives
are determined based on results of the baseline risk assessment and an
evaluation of expected exposures and associated risks for each alternative.
As described by EPA, the intent of the R I P S process is to provide a
"dynamic, flexible process that can and should be tailored to specific
circumstances at individual sites; it is not a rigid step-by-step approach that
must be conducted identically at every site."I5 Many have contended that in
practice, this flexibility is not applied and that costly remedies are more often
selected than cost-effective ones. It has been argued that the current risk
assessment process is responsible for selection of exceedingly costly remedies.
An EPA guidance document on the R I P S process addresses the challenges faced
by project managers:
The project manager's central responsibility is to determine how best
to use the flexibility built into the process to conduct an efficient and
effective R I P S that achieves high quality results in a timely and costeffective manner. A significant challenge project managers face in
effectively managing an R I P S is the inherent uncertainties associated
with the remediation of uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.'"
Some criticize EPA's cautious approach at exercising the flexibility built
into the statute; however, one reason EPA takes this approach is because
information to assess health risks completely is still not available, and it has
been shown that health effects are linked to exposure to toxic wastes. In
addressing the link between health effects and exposure to toxic substances,
Barry L. Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Administrator of the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR -- the Agency responsible for healthrelated authorities under CERCLA) testified about health effects from exposure
to hazardous substances." In summary, ATSDR found that proximity to
hazardous waste sites seems to be associated with a small to moderate increased
risk of some kinds of birth defects and, less well documented. some specific
cancers and health problems.
Those who support EPA's cautious approach (including some in the
scientific community! claim that scientists may have been too optimistic in
assessing health implications from exposure to toxics (that is, they may
underestimate risk). Because critical information about the link between
l5 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Guidance for Conducting Remedial
Inr;estigationsandFeasibility Studies Under CERCLA.EPAl5401G-891004,October 1988.
Barry L. Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Surgeon General, Public Health Service, U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. Testimony submitted to the House
Comn~itteeon Commerce, Subcommittee on Commerce; Trade, and Hazardous Materials.
May 23, 1995. 104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.
hazardous waste and health effects is still lacking, it is necessary for EPA to use
adequate safety margins in their health assessments: they maintain. ATSDR
asked the National Research Council (KRC) to review current knowledge of
human health effects caused by exposure to hazardous waste sites. Their 1991
report maintained: "Until better evidence is developed, prudent public policy
demands that a margin of safety be provided regarding potential health risks
from exposures to substances from hazardous waste sites."18 It explained, "We
do no less in designing bridges and buildings. We do no less in establishing
criteria for scientific credibility. We must surely do no less when the health and
quality of life of Americans are at stake."lg
Critics of EPA's risk assessment me tho do log^. believe that such caution
precludes the choice of less costly remedies. For example, the Kational
Environmental Policy Institute has attacked EPA's method of estimating risk,
claiming that worst case scenarios are used when more moderate ones could
sufficiently protect human health and the environment?' In response, Elliott
Laws, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency
Response testified that:
Prior to 1990, Superfund risk assessments relied heavily on the 'worst
case scenario.' Since then we have used a peer reviewed guidance for
risk assessments that employs site specific information on contaminant
concentrations, exposure pathways and land use, which make the risk
assessment more realistic. EPA's current risk assessment process
seeks to protect the majority of individuals near Superfund sites?'
It is also argued that the current risk assessment process is too flexible and
consequently responsible for differing cleanup goals, remedies, and costs site-bysite across the country. A number of stakeholders, including environmental
organizations, State and local governments, and environmental health
organizations call for the establishment of a single risk management goal.
Academy of Sciences: National Research Council. Enuironmental
Epidemiology Public Health and Hazardous Wastes. Washington, D.C.; National
Academy Press, 1991. p. 21
lg Ibid. p.
Steven J. Milloy, National Environmental Policy Institute. Testimony submitted
to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on
Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk Assessment. Oversight hearing regarding the
ComprehensiveEnvironmental Response, Compensation,and Liability Act. April 5,1995.
104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.; U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [to be printedl.
Elliott P. Laws, Assistant Administrator; Environmental Protection Agency.
Testimony submitted to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works,
Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk Assessment. Oversight hearing
regarding the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,and Liability Act.
April 5, 1995. 104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [to
Environmental organizations and community groups have been opposed to
EPA's use of the risk range, described in the Cleanup Standards section of this
report, because it affords EPA the latitude to provide communities with a 100fold difference in protection without explanation." The National Governor's
Association (NGA) agreed by testifying that [eliminating use of the risk range]
"will greatly increase the pace of cleanup and ensure equal protection for all
citizens of this country."23 PRPs and communities have often been left
wondering how and why a particular cleanup remedy was selected. It has been
argued t h a t establishing a national risk protocol would avoid site-by-site debate
and confusion by requiring EPA to develop national cleanup models and
standards. Last year, the Administration's Superfund reauthorization bill
(H.R.3800iS.1834) included the establishment of national cleanup goals and
The House draft bill requires EPA to establish a national risk protocol.
Risk assessments performed under the Act "shall provide scientifically objective
and unbiased estimates and characterizations which neither minimize nor
exaggerate the nature and magnitude of risks."24 For drinking water, the bill
states t h a t Superfund cleanup remedies shall prevent ingestion of water t h a t
does not meet the Safe Drinking Water Act's maximum contaminant levels. For
"non-threshold carcinogens" (those with no known safe level of ingestion), a
remedy shall be considered protective of human health if it "limits cumulative,
lifetime additional cancer risk from exposure ... t o within the range of one in
10;000 t o one in 1,000~000for the affected population.'26
S. 1285 states t h a t remedies are t o be selected according to site-specific
conditions and risks based on future use. Like the House draft, a remedy would
be considered to protect health if it has a risk range for cancer resulting from
exposure a t the facility of from one in 10,000 t o one in 1,000;000 for the affected
population; and exposure to non-carcinogens does not pose an appreciable risk
of deleterious effects. Remedial actions would be selected according to exposure
pathways based on future use (industrial, commercial, residential; etc.1; sitespecific testing data; and where t h a t data is unavailable, an acceptable range of
realistic and plausible default assumptions regarding human exposure and site" Karen Florini, Senior Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund.
submitted to the House T~ansportationand Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on
Infrastructure and Environment. Superfund Reauthorization: Environmental and
Community Groups. June 21, 1995. Hearings, 104th Congress, 1st Session.
Washington, D.C., U.S. God. Print. Off. p. 9.
23 Richard J. Gimello, National Governor's Association. Testimony submitted to the
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommitteeon Water Resources and
Environment. Superfund Reauthorization: State and Local Perspectives. June 13; 1995.
Hearings, 104th Congress. 1st Session. Washington, D.C.; God. Print. Off. [to be
Section 101, adding new section 127(a)(l)
Section 102, in amended CERCLA section 121(b)(3)
specific conditions, instead of worst case assumptions. The following balancing
factors are to be considered in selecting a remedy: effectiveness in protecting
health; long-term reliability; short-term risks during cleanup; acceptance by the
community; and technical practicability.
COST-EFFECTIVENESS OF TREATMENT
CERCLA's lack of national standard cleanup levels, its reliance on ARARs,
and its preference for permanent cleanups and use of treatment technologies
have been attributed to cleanup remedies which are more stringent and more
costly than necessary to protect human health. The existing statutory
requirements for remedial actions specifically call for consideration of the costeffectiveness of the selected remedy. Cost is one of nine evaluation criteria
which EPA uses when analyzing alternatives for a remedial action.z6 However.
EPA recognizes that in practice, cleanup costs are often high due to the
statute's deference to ARARs and its preference for permanence and
A number of stakeholders have offered proposals which would instruct the
EPA to consider the cost-effectiveness of a cleanup solution as a major factor in
its evaluation of alternates.
One suggestion to reduce program costs is to permit use of "presumptive
remedies" or remedies that EPA has historically used at particular categories of
sites which could be preapproved in order to avoid costs of extensive analysis
The Department of Defense (DOD), which has about 125 KPL sites? has
proposed reforms intended to cut costs and speed the cleanup of contaminated
sites. At a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing,
DOD recommended modifications to the remedy selection process, one of which
Elevate the role of cost when considering other factors in remedy
selection. Currently; cost-effectiveness is one of nine considerations
regulators use in making a cleanup decision. By elevating the
26 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Emergency and Remedial
Response. Guidance for Conducting Remedial In~estigatiueand Feasibility Studies
Under CERCLA. October 1988. p. 6-3.
Carol M. Browner, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Pmtection Agency.
Testimony submitted to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. Superfund Reauthorization:
Federal Agency Perspecti~es. June 27, 1995. Hearing, 104th Congress: 1st Session.
Washington. D.C., U.S. Government Print. Off. [to be printed].
importance of cost, we can provide a more prudent use of our
House-passed H.R. 9, The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act, part
of the Republican Contract with America package, addresses this topic by
requiring in Division D that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted on any
Superfund remediation remedy selected by EPA which is expected to cost over
$5 million. This means that such a remedy must be cost-effective and the
incremental costs of t h e remedy must be reasonably related t o the incremental
benefit^.'^ Since the average cost of cleanup is $25-30 million; virtually all
NPL sites would be subject to this provision. This provision has caused concern
for some environmental groups, including the Environmental Health Network,
t h a t fewer cleanups will be accomplished regardless of human health
considerations. Another concern is that all cleanups will be slowed down t o
accommodate the additional cost-benefit analysis. S. 343; The Comprehensive
Regulatory Reform Bill of 1995, is similar to H.R. 9; has been debated on the
floor: and is still pending.
Rep. Oxley's H.R. 2500 rewrites CERCLA's section 121 on remedy selection,
and sets out the general standard that remedies selected "shall be those
necessary t o protect human health and the environment from realistic and
significant risks through cost-effective and cost-reasonable means." Cost is one
of five factors to be considered in selecting the remedy.30 The preferred remedy
is the one that "adequately protects human health and the environment from
realistic and significant risks a t the lowest total cost." Other provisions
encouraging economy are the use of generic remedies where they would be costeffective and appropriate; a review of new procedures for conducting RI/FSs in
a n efficient: cost-effective, and timely manner; use of institutional controls (such
as restrictions on t h e use of the land or surface water, or restrictions on drilling
wells or the use of groundwater); and eliminating any procedural requirements,
including local permitting when the response action is carried out on-site.
The selected remedy is to be the one which provides protection of health
and t h e environment in the most cost-effective manner. If achieving the cleanup
goals a t a site is technically impracticable or unreasonably costly, a technically
28 Shem W. Goodman, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. Testimony submitted to
the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcon~mitteeon Water Re-UOUIC~S
and Infrastructure. Superfund Reautt~onzahon:Fedeml Agency Perspectiues. June 27,
1995. Hearing, 104th Congress: 1st Session. Washington, D.C., Govt. Print. Off. [to be
29 This provision was originally passed in the House as H.R. 1022 and was
subsequently included in H.R. 9, The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement .4ct, as
Division D; the Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit .4ct of 1995.
30 The other four factors are the remedy's technical effectiveness; its long- and shortterm reliability; risks to the community, cleanup workem, and the environment; and
acceptability to the conlnlunity, as represented by local elected officials.
practicable remedy is to be chosen that minimizes risk to health and the
environment by cost-effective means. Also, EPA is directed to establish
presumptive remedies for commonly encountered types of contaminated
facilities; presumptive remedies are not limited to treatment, but may include
institutional and standard engineering controls, such as restrictions on the
permissible uses of land, prohibitions on specified activities upon the property,
restrictions on the drilling of wells or other use of ground water: or restrictions
on the use of surface water.
ARARs AND PREFERENCE FOR PERMANENCE AND TREATMENT
There is broad support for the elimination of the statute's ARARs
requirement and preference for permanence and treatment. Critics argue that
they have artificially tilted the remedy selection process towards more costly
remedies than are necessary to protect human health and the environment.
According to the General Accounting Office, cleanup levels established by
standards, such as ARARs, are generally more stringent than cleanup levels
established by risk assessment^.'^ This supports the common assertion that
cleanups based on standards are generally more costly than cleanups based on
risk assessments. Debate over which Federal or State regulations (or
combinations thereof) are relevant and appropriate at a given site has often
been cited as time consuming. PRPs have an obvious interest in favoring the
standard which is easiest and most economical to attain. EPA and State
regulators frequently disagree on which regulations should apply. These
negotiations can add months to the process.
CERCLA section 121(d)(2)(A) requires that selected remedial actions for
hazardous wastes left on site attain legally Applicable or Relevant and
Appropriate standards, Requirements, criteria, or limitations. State ARARs
must be met if they are more stringent than the Federal requirements. Federal
environmental laws cited in CERCLA include: the Toxic Substances Control Act,
the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the
Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, and the Solid Waste Disposal
Act. CERCLA also requires that the remedial action "shall require a level or
standard of control which at least attains Maximum Contaminant Level Goals
established under the Safe Drinking Water Act and water quality criteria
established under section 304 or 303 of the Clean Water Act, where such goals
or criteria are relevant and appropriate under the circumstances of the release
or threatened release".32
31 Lawrence J. Dyckman, Associate Director, U.S.
General Accounting Office.
Testimony submitted to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. Superfund Reauthorization:
Members of Congress, Miscellaneous Issues. June 22, 1995. Heanng, 104th Congress.
1st Session. Washington, D.C., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [to be printed].
32 CERCLA § 121(d)(2)(A).For carcinogens; EPA sets Maximum Contaminant Level
Goals at Zero.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (KRDC) endorses replacement of
Federal ARARs with a formula for setting standards and an explicit process for
selecting treatment. They do not, however, endorse elimination of State ARARs
requirements. State requirements which are more prescriptive than Federal
ones should not be preempted, they argue.3"
While some stakeholders in the debate call for eliminating the ARARs
requirement, others call for eliminating only the relevant and appropriate
requirements (RARs). This approach would keep the substantive demands
found in Federal and State law that specifically address hazardous substances
at a site ("applicable"); but drop those requirements that appear sufficiently
similar that some EPA or State regulators might consider their use well suited
to the particular site ("relevant and appropriate"). By reducing the number of
regulations that can be argued over: presumably; the debate would be speeded
up. If the ARARs requirement is eliminated, some advocate establishment of a
national cleanup standard which could be used for all Superfund sites.
The House draft bill eliminates ARARs. As noted earlier, it directs EPA or
the State administering agency to consider all options for addressing
contamination at a site, includingcontainment, treatment, institutional controls,
natural attenuation, or a combination of these alternatives.
S. 1285 eliminates the requirement that remedial actions meet ARARS,
although it notes that if the cleanup remedy requires hazardous materials to be
removed from the site, they must be taken to a facility that is permitted to treat,
store, or dispose of them. Institutional and engineering controls are to be
considered on an equal basis with all other remedial action alternatives.
Section 121(b) of CERCLA requires a remedial action "that utilizes
permanent solutions and alternative treatment technologies or resource recovery
technologies to the maximum extent practicable." As noted above, many
advocate eliminating this preference. Some advocate total elimination of this
provision, while others advocate retaining the preference for permanent
remedies and treatment at 'hot spots' only. Superfund Reform '95 (a broad
coalition of the insurance industry, small and large businesses, and some local
governments), calls for the elimination of the ARARs requirement and the
preference for permanence and treatment. Instead, they call for "final decisions
on remedy selection to be made by comparing the costs and net human health
and environmental benefits of the alternatives, with priority for funding directed
33 Linda E. Greer; Ph.D. for Natural Resources Defense Council, Submitted
Testimony. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on
Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk Assessment. Oversight hearing regarding the
ComprehensiveEnvironmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. April 5, 1995.
104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.; U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [to be printed].
a t real and sienificant
risks t o human health".34 The Department of Enerw's
Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, Thomas P. Grumbly, before
the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Subcommittee on Water
Resources and the Environment testified: "The current law's preference for
treatmentlpermanence should be narrowed and replaced with the concept of
long-term reliability and a preference for the treatment of 'hot spot^'."^' There
appears t o be consensus among stakeholders seeking these reforms t h a t
containment measures and institutional controls should be required for sites
where permanent treatment is not achieved.
The House draft bill would eliminate CERCLA's preference for permanence
and treatment. I n lieu of permanence, the bill says that the reliability of the
remedy over the short and long term is one of five factors to be considered and
balanced in selecting the remedy.36 Regarding treatment, the bill says t h a t
remediation may be accomplished through the use of one or more of the
following: treatment, stabilization, source control, natural attenuation,
containment, institutional controls: or other methods. "No preference or bias
shall apply t o any method of remediation," it states.
S. 1285 also eliminates the preference for permanence and treatment. And,
like the House draft, it replaces permanence with the requirement that
protectiveness over the long r u n be one of the balancing factors.
CERCLA identifies six circumstances which if met allow for the waiver of
ARARs.~' One of these waivers, the technical impracticability (TI) waiver, may
be granted if "compliance with such requirements [ARARsl is technically
impracticable from a n engineering perspective".38 EPA has issued a guidance
document for evaluating the technical impracticability of ground-water
34 John F. Spisak, for Superfund Reform '95. Testimony submitted to the House
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Subcommittee on Water Resources and
Environment. Hearings, 104th Congress. 1st Session. Washington, D.C., U.S. Govt.
Print. Off. [to be printed].
S5 Thomas P. Grumbly, Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management,
Department of Energy. Testimony submitted to the Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. Hearing on
Superfund Reauthorization: Federal Agency Perspeetiues. June 27, 1995. 104th
Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [to be printed].
other four factors are the remedy's technical effectiveness; risks to the
community; cleanup workers, and the environment; acceptability to the community, as
represented by local elected officials; and the reasonableness of the remedy's cost.
See CERCLA Section 121(d)(4j
r e s t ~ r a t i o n . ~ 'The guidance is intended to promote "the careful and realistic
assessment of the technical capabilities a t hand to manage risks posed by
ground-water contamination." Since issuing the guidance in 1993, EPA has
promoted its implementation by establishing headquarters and regional contact
personnel for transfer of T I related information, and by outlining a basic process
for evaluation of TI decision documents. However, some critics in government
and industry claim t h a t EPA's approach to using this waiver authority greatly
diminishes opportunities for cost savings. I n practice, the implementation of "TI
waivers" is often stymied by political issues such a s some States' reluctance t o
accept the "TI waiver" option.
The most important application of the TI waiver is for the case of certain
groundwater restorations. For example, the presence of dense nonaqueousphase liquids; commonly known as DNAPLs4', a t hazardous waste sites has
complicated many groundwater cleanups. Based on current technology, t h e
attainment of drinking water standards (an ARAR) a t sites contaminated with
DNAPLS is impracticable.
A National Research Council (NRC) report discusses EPA's practical
implementation of t h e TI waiver. EPA has issued a technical policy to address
sites contaminated with DNAPLS which is "supported to a great extent by the
committee's [NRC committee on Ground Water Cleanup Alternatives] technical
review."41 However: the NRC committee and other stakeholders are concerned
with EPA's general practice of granting a TI waiver only after the cleanup
remedy fails in attaining the initial goals. The NRC committee concluded.
"Although the committee sees value in ensuring that best possible efforts are
employed to address DNAPL contamination, a requirement t h a t a remedial
action be designed t o achieve the impossible (based on current technology) is
c o u n t e r p r o d ~ c t i v e . ~ Mr. Robert Frantz, Manager of General Electric's
Remedial Program testified a t a Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee hearing that, "EPA gives little regard for cost or technical
practicability" and t h a t "For cases where ground water treatment has been
shown to be incapable of meeting standards, an 'up-front' TI waiver should be
39 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Guidance for Eualuating the Technical
Impracticability of Ground-Water Restoration. 1993.
40 Some examples of compounds likely to exist as DNAPLs are chlorinated solvents,
coal tars, and transformer oil.
41 NAS, National Research Council. Alternatiues for Ground Water Cleanup.
Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1994. p. 258
National Research Council p. 259.
4%obert W. Frantz, Manager Remedial Program, General Electric Company.
Testimony submitted to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works,
Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control and Risk Assessment. Oversight hearing
The House draft bill allows for a finding of technical impracticability from
an engineering perspective when considering the effectiveness of various
remedies. The finding can be made on the basis of projections, modeling, or
other site-specific analysis, and without first constructing or installing the
remedy under consideration.
S. 1285 also allows EPA to make a finding that achieving the cleanup goals
is technically impracticable; it would do so by determining that there is no
known reliable means of achieving the cleanup goals at a reasonable cost? and
that it has not been shown that such a means is likely to be developed in a
reasonable period of time.
FUTURE LAND, GROUNDWATER AND RESOURCE USE
Many believe that to accomplish cleanups cost-effectively and at apace that
is conducive to the protection of human health and the environment, the future
use of land, groundwater and other resources must be considered in determining
the appropriate cleanup standard and the remedial design. Future uses are
currently considered in the remedial investigation/feasibility study; however,
critics argue that the statute encourages overly conservative risk assessments
based on unrealistic exposure pathways. Stakeholders favoring these risk
assessment reforms include the chemical industry, small and large businesses,
the National Governor's Association, Local Governments for Superfund Reform,
the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense.
Three land use reforms frequently proposed are: use of actual or planned
future land and other resource use during the remedial investigation/feasibility
study; use of institutional controls such as deed restrictions to protect human
health; and contaminated groundwater remedy selection based on future use and
exposure, with treatment designated only for aquifers that are currently
supplying drinking water or are reasonably expected to supply drinking water
in the future.
Some environmental groups are cautious about any provisions that would
make land use considerations central to the remedy selection decision-making
process. Others, such as Friends of the Earth, go further and urge rejection of
a preference for institutional controls and advocate the goal of restoration of all
sites to a full range of uses44. The Natural Resources Defense Council (IiRDC)
regarding the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
April 5, 1995. 104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C., U.S. God. Print. Off. [to
44 Velma M. Smith, for Friends of the Earth. Testimony submitted to the House
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources
and the Environment. Hearing on Superfund Reauthorization: Enuironmental and
explains: "The reliance on land use to provide long-term protection to
communities has long been difficult for the environmental community to accept.
given the difficulties associated with both accurately predicting future needs for
the land and limitations in our institutional capabilities to control for
inappropriate future uses."46 However; the KRDC also recognizes that "land
can in some cwes not be fully restored yet used productively for industrial
NRDC does not hold the position that future land use must
not be considered in remedy selection. They do: however. recommend that
remedy selection decisions be agreed on by adjacent communities.
Organizations and groups active in the environmental justice movement are
concerned that if more emphasis is placed on future land use considerations,
communities located near areas considered to be less worthy of a high standard
for cleanup will be at greater health risk than communities which are not
located near such sites. Environmental justice pursues fair and equitable
protection against any environmental hazard. including exposure to hazardous
wastes, of all people regardless of race or socioeconom.ic status. The
incorporation of a single national risk goal combined with consideration of a
community's anticipated future land use and institutional controls: if necessary.
might resolve this concern. Advocates for increased consideration of land use
counter these arguments by claiming that risk management goals would not be
lowered, and therefore human health protection would not be lowered.
The House draft bill would require that remedy selection take into account
reasonably anticipated future uses of land, water. and other resources at a
facility, as well as the timing of such uses. Future uses should have a
"substantial probability" of occurring. and should consider: recommendations of
the community; historical and current uses, as well as recent development
patterns and population projections; Federal and State land uses such as parks:
and groundwater recharge areas; local government zoning and land use plans;
the potential for economic development; the property owners' plans; and
alternative sources of drinking water.
S. 1285 states that the risk evaluation at each facility shall consider
planned or reasonably anticipated future use of land and water resources.
Future land use is a use determined by zoning, or a use with a "substantial
Community Groups. June 21, 1995. 104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.,
U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [to be printed].
46 Linda E. Greer, Ph.D. for Natural Resources Defense Council, Submitted
Testimony. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on
Superfund, Waste Control and Risk Assessment. Oversight hearing regarding the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,and Liabi1itg.lct. April 5, 1995.
Hearings, 104th Congress. 1st Session. Washington, D.C.; U.S. Government Print. Off.
[to be printed].
probability" of occurring based on recent developnient patterns and population
projections. With regard to water, future use is that reasonably anticipated by
a local government or by an authority that regulates groundwater use or
planning in the vicinity. The bill would establish a higher level of protection for
groundwater that is uncontaminated. Input is to be sought from the new
Community Response Organizations proposed by the bill, local officials, planning
and zoning authorities, facility owners, and PRPs.
THE ROLE OF STATES IN THE REMEDY SELECTION PROCESS
The current system of shared EPA and State responsibility for
implementing and funding the Superfund program has led to significant delay
and duplication of effort, and confusion among stakeholders, critics claim.
States are better equipped to tailor remedies to sites within their borders in
cost-effective fashion, and an expanded State role would result in faster cleanups
with lower transaction costs, they say. Accordingly, a number of States want
full Superfund authority.
The law does not provide for delegation of Superfund program authority to
the States as it has for other environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act
and RCRA. At present, EPA and States can enter into cooperative agreements
on a site-by-site basis that authorize the States to undertake most of the
cleanup activities the Agency would perform, excluding remedy selection. Fullprogram authority would enable States with such authority to implement their
own versions of a Superfund program, while program delegation would give
States the authority to implement the Federal program.
The Federal government has primary responsibility for implementing the
Superfund program, though States play important roles in remedy selection and
funding of Superfund site cleanups. Their standards and regulations are
recognized by the ARARs requirement. Under current law! States carry a
financial responsibility of 10 percent of Fund-financed cleanup costs, and the
full cost of operation and maintenance of the selected remediation. In addition,
the State must make off-site disposal facilities available if necessary and it must
provide 20 years of hazardous waste treatment or disposal capacity for all
hazardous waste reasonably expected to be generated within the State. A State
is required to pay for 50 percent of all response costs if the State or a locality
operated the site. If a State cannot fulfill these requirements, EPA cannot
obligate trust fund money for the cleanup.
The National Governor's Association proposed:
...that all capable states interested in administering cleanups be
authorized or delegated full or partial management of the remedial and
emergency removal programs at hTL sites -- including federal
facilities. This will accelerate cleanup, avoid duplication of effort,
increase efficiency for government and the private sector, reduce
transaction costs, provide greater certainty in the program, and
maximize the effectiveness of limited state and federal resources.... It
is important that such a program be voluntary and we recommend
that EPA maintain a federal program in states that are unable to or
[are] uninterested in pursuing authorization. Also critical to the
success of state authorization is adequate funding and flexibility for
The Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials
(ASTSWMO) also supports the position that State delegation should be strictly
voluntary and that delegation should be either full or partial depending on the
abilities of the State.
Other stakeholders interested in increasing the role of the States include
some local governments, PRPs including the DOD and the DOE, the insurance
and manufacturing industries, and some not-for-profit organizations interested
in Superfund reauthorization. Part of the problem with the current remedy
selection process, these stakeholders claim, is that EPA has the authority to
preempt a State-selected remedy. Further, the threat of EPA preemption causes
participation in voluntary cleanup actions to be a risky venture: some witnesses
say. A business that participates in voluntary cleanups may face CERCLA
liability even after liability under State law is resolved. If States had full
Superfund authority this risk would disappear, it is claimed. At least 21 States
have voluntary cleanup programs for less serious hazardous waste sites.
Some community groups are apprehensive about the proposed State
delegation and advocate judicious oversight by EPA if delegation o~curred.~'
One concern is that some States will not be as conservative in their cleanup
decisions as the Federal program, which would necessarily lead to less protection
of human health and the environment: they claim. Some also believe that State
public participation programs have not measured up to the Federal program.
A community activist, Florence Robinson, urged in testimony before the House
Commerce Committee: "Any state authorization, be it site-specific or statewide,
should expressly require that a state provide the public with at least as much
opportunity to participate as would occur under the federal program."4g
Title V of the House draft would give States the power they have lobbied
for, authorizing EPA to delegate authority to conduct virtually all cleanup
activities, including remedy selection. It also would give them the ability to
R. Gimello testimony.
48 Florence Robinson, North Baton Rouge Environmental Association, and the
Communities at Risk Network. Testimony submitted to the House Committee on
Commerce. Subcommittee on Trade, Commerce, and Hazardous Material. Hearing on
the Reauthorization of the Super,+Lnd Program focusing on State RoleNoluntary
Cleanup. June 15, 1995 104th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.; U.S. Govt
Print. Off. [to be printed]
delist a facility from the National Priorities List when a State finds that no
further action is needed to protect health and the environment. In addition; the
bill would rewrite the existing remedy selection language in CERCLA section
121 to provide "substantial and meaningful involvement by each State in
initiation, development: and selection of remedial actions." However, it would
give no independent authority to States that have not been delegated it under
Title Vt but does give them the opportunity to participate in virtually every
aspect of the remedy selection process.
S. 1285 empowers States to veto the listing of new NPL sites, and to de-list
existing NPL sites. States may request delegation of all or a portion of
Superfund authorities, including remedy selection. The bill designates the State
as the sole regulator and allows the State to use its own remedy selection
process at those sites where the State accepts all authority. The Fund continues
to pay its share of cleanup costs at delegated sites, as long as the selected
remedy is protective of human health and the environment, and is no more
costly than the one that would have been selected under the Federal program.
The bill provides for funding to delegated States, some of which is on a facilityspecific basis, and some of which is not.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN REMEDY SELECTION PROCESS
There is general agreement that the current process for involving
communities in the decisionmaking process does little to speed up Superfund
cleanups, and that it often makes people feel alienated and powerless regarding
their community's future. In some cases, it has led communities to take legal
action to halt the cleanup.
The importance of community participation was recognized after CERCW
had been in existence for only 5 years, and as a result section 117 was added by
SARA. However, section 117 only requires that a site's remedial action plan be
made available to the public, that the public have an opportunity to make
comments on the plan and any changes to it, and that EPA answer those
comments and explain any significant differences in the final plan. To assist the
community in interpreting and commenting on the plan, technical assistance
grants (TAGS) were authorized (see box on the following page). But although
section 117 provided the public some access, for the most part it has not
engendered active involvement of a community in the decision making process.
Industry witnesses testified to the importance of having the local populace
involved. A manager of Dupont who spoke on behalf of the Chemical
Manufacturers Association (CMA) said, "The experience of CMA's member
companies is that when the local community has meaningful input in the
remedy selection process, the result is better decisions and faster cleanups." An
official of the second largest waste management company in the U.S. testified
that better and more efficient cleanups resulted from active and early
consultation with the local community:
At BFI [Browning Ferris Industries], as a matter of policy, we
actively involve communities in virtually all of our activities, whether
involving Superfund sites or the siting of new landfills. The absence
of a n involved and informed community makes for more expensive,
more contentious, and more time-consuming projects, in our view,"
T h e Technical Assistance Grants (TAG) Program
To ensure that con~munitiesaffected by Superfund mtes are adequatelx
involved in the decision-making process, Section 117 of SARA added the
Technical Assistance Grants (TAG) program Up to $50.000 ma! be provided
to a community "to obtain technical assistance in mterpretlng information
with regard to the nature of the hazard, remedlal lnvestlgatwn and feasibilitx
study, record of decision, remedial design, selection and construction of
remedial action, operation and maintenanw, or removal actlon at such
facilib-." Recipients of grants are requred to contribute 20 percent of the
total cost of assistance for which the grant is made, though this may be
waived in cases of financial hardship The TAG program has been criticized
as being less successful than originally hoped Some community groups have
recommended that Technical ilssffitance Grants be granted befoze a site is
listed on the NPL One such group, the Concerned Citizens of Triumph
(Triumph, Idaho) has actively opposed the listing of a mill tailings site located
in their community to the NPL (without benefit of a TAG grant)
Ennronmental communitygroups such as North Baton Rouge Environmental
Association and the Communities a t Risk Network have proposed other
refomis to the TAG program such as: simplification of the application process;
elimnation of the matchng funds requirement; and removal of the three year
T h e same point was made by a Federal official; as well. Thomas P.
Grumbly, Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, Department of
Superfund should be reformed to incorporate community
involvement earlier in the remedy selection process. We have often
been criticized for not adequately addressing local circumstances when
we evaluate the risks associated with a site or determining t h e method
or level of cleanup. For too long community groups have felt s h u t out
of the process of site remediation decisionmaking, discussions of future
land use options, and the risk evaluation process. Community
involvement should be a n integral part of the remedy selection process
Philip Angell, vice president, Browning Ferris Industries. U.S. Senate.
Committee on Environment and Public Works. Superfund R e f o n Act of 1994. S. Hrg.
103-559. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.: 1994. p. 249
t h a t will; in the long run: make the risk assessment and management
process more open, and more dem~cratic.'~
To facilitate community involvement in the remedy selection process a t
DOE, the Department has created a n Office of Public Accountability in its
Environmental Management Program. It is monitoring progress in increasing
stakeholders' trust and confidence levels: and improvement has been indicated.
EPA has awarded TAG grants to 165 communities (about 13 percent) of the
communities located adjacent to Superfund sites. The U.S. General Accounting
Office (GAO) has found that EPA's limited emphasis on TAG program outreach
efforts a t headquarters and regional levels has contributed to low participation
in the program.
Without significant community support, a hazardous waste cleanup project
faces potential problems such as remedy selection challenges, delays, public
displays of opposition, citizen suits. A House Public Works Committee report
from the last Congress found that constructive and early community
involvement in the remedy selection process improves the likelihood that a
successful as well as cost-effective solution will be attained.52
The House draft bill would require consultation on cleanup decisions with
Community Assistance Groups (CAGs - newly established by the bill): but states
that CAG decisions are not binding. The TAG program is continued, and grants
may exceed the current $50,000 limit if warranted by the complexity of the site;
the needs, size, and diversity of the population; and the ability of the communiv
to raise funds from other sources. The bill requires that information presented
to the community be "unbiased and informative;" that it explain significant
assumptions and value judgments used; and, among other things, that it
compare site risks to other risks that are familiar and routinely encountered by
S. 1285 authorizes the newly established Community Response
Organizations to serve as an information conduit to EPA, the States, and PRPs.
TAGS are made renewable for up to $100,000 total, doubling the current limit
of $50;000; no matching funds from the community are required.
" U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Public Works and Transportation,
Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Adnzinistration of the Superfund
Progrant. House Report No. 103-35, 103d Congress, 1st Session. Washington; U.S. Govt.
Print. Off.; 1993. p. 61.
j3 For further discussion, see U.S. Libra7 of Congress. Congressional Research
Service. Risk Analysis and Cost-BenefitAnalysis of Environntental Regulations. CRS
Report for Congress 94-961 ENR; by LindaJo Schiemw. Washington, 1994. 55 p.
This report has outlined cleanup standards issues, presented a t
congressional hearings during 1995: that are central to the Superfund
reauthorization debate. The viewpoints presented in this report are those most
frequently delivered on the subject of cleanup standards and remedy selection.
Proposed reforms such as repealing the requirement t o meet "relevant and
appropriate" requirements, or ensuring t h a t risk assessment plays a larger role
in the remedy selection process confront formidable questions: What should be
the goal of the Superfund program? Should sites be cleaned for environmental
cleanliness' sake (as some ARARs do) or should sites be cleaned for protection
of human health? The distinction between the two is significant -- the former
takes a more expansive approach t o environmental protection, while the latter
takes one t h a t may better accommodate economic considerations. If the goal
should be protection of human health, how protective and complete should the
cleanup be? And who decides? If the goal is to achieve a certain level of
cleanliness, should national standards be established to define the level of
cleanliness required? Though there is little consensus on the answers, most
involved in Superfund seek t o alleviate the confusion over the program. To
lessen this confusion, Congress is attempting to further define Superfund's
cleanup goals and the methods used t o attain these goals.