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Two Pennsylvania sites are denied federal cleanup funding
By Tom Avril
The Philadelphia Enquirer
04/25/03

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposes its latest national batch of Superfund sites next week, it will not include more than half of the 30 toxic sites originally recommended for the list, including two in Pennsylvania.

Blame it on the budget.

In the past, if a polluted site were recommended by regional EPA staff and that selection had the support of state officials, it was virtually guaranteed a spot on the list of proposed sites - making it eligible for millions in cleanup funds.

This time, 16 of the 30 recommended sites were rejected despite states' recommendations that they be listed, according to state and federal officials familiar with the decision.

The move is sure to provoke controversy as politicians wrangle over the question of how best to pay for cleaning up such toxic sites, with Republicans refusing to reauthorize special corporate taxes to help pay for remediation.

The Superfund budget is well below its level of the early 1990s, although President Bush has proposed an increase.

"We should not have to pick which of the worst sites is going to get funding," said Julie Wolk, a policy analyst for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "We should be able to clean up all of the most hazardous sites."

The EPA rejected an Inquirer request, filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act, for complete information about the 30 sites and how the list was winnowed down.

Marianne L. Horinko, head of EPA cleanup programs, would say only that the riskiest sites were given preference. For example, sites with an immediate human risk got the nod over sites that posed a risk to the environment.

She denied a report yesterday in Inside EPA, an independent weekly trade newsletter, that, citing EPA sources, said that some sites were picked partly because they would be cheap to clean up.

Another Superfund official, who requested anonymity, confirmed the Inside EPA report yesterday.

In Pennsylvania, the rejected sites include the Safety Light facility in Bloomsburg, Columbia County, a sign-manufacturing company on the Susquehanna River, where soil and groundwater are contaminated with radioactive wastes, and Jackson Ceramix, in Falls Creek, Clearfield County, a china-manufacturing plant where a wetland was contaminated by lead.

New Jersey, meanwhile, is expected to get all three of its sites on the proposed list next week. They are the Rolling Knolls landfill in Chatham, Morris County, the Standard Chlorine Chemical Co. site in Kearny, Hudson County, and the White Swan/Sun Cleaners site in Wall Township, Monmouth County.

Pennsylvania officials said they were disappointed not to have their sites on the list, but were hopeful after hearing from regional EPA staff that rejected sites would be considered again in the future.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the Safety Light site, in particular, warranted further consideration.

"We're going to continue to make the case for it because we think we have a good one," Ruman said. "We understand, with the budget we're facing here this year, that it is tight budget times everywhere."

Tom Kennedy, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials, said that it was very rare for a site with state support to be rejected.

"That makes everybody uneasy, especially if you've convinced your governor it's got to be on the list," Kennedy said.

Horinko said that she didn't want to load up the program with a lot of new proposed sites while there were plenty already in the pipeline.

"We want to manage the program in an equilibrium fashion," Horinko said.

EPA officials say that 70 percent of cleanup costs typically are borne by the companies responsible for the pollution. The remaining 30 percent - at sites known as "orphans" because the polluter generally is insolvent or no longer in business - has in the past been covered by revenues from corporate taxes, including special taxes imposed on the oil and chemical industries.

The special taxes expired in 1995, and the Superfund program's trust fund is expected to run dry next year as a result. Each year since the taxes expired, more of the cleanup burden has been borne by all taxpayers.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has said that it is unfair to impose a special tax on chemical and petroleum companies because it penalizes those that are following the law.

In his budget proposal for fiscal 2004, Bush has requested an increase of $150 million in the $1.3 billion Superfund budget. The total is well below the $1.6 billion a year common in the early 1990s, especially when accounting for inflation.

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