Two Pennsylvania sites are denied
federal cleanup funding
By Tom Avril
The Philadelphia Enquirer
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
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
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,
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,"
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
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