Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — April 28, 2000


ALBANY — The Business Council today called on the legislature to adopt needed reforms to the state’s Superfund program as part of any refinancing effort.

These reforms—which are being adopted by an increasing number of states—would base cleanups on actual risks at a site, provide post-cleanup liability releases, and reduce or eliminate liability for entities that did not cause contamination. This comprehensive package should also include specific provisions, timetables and incentives for “brownfield” redevelopment projects, said Ken Pokalsky, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for The Business Council.

These reforms will also make the state’s program more efficient, regardless of whether private or public dollars are being spent at a site, he said. “There is a growing consensus that industrial-site cleanups should not be based on the assumption that people will be living there for 30 years, and that groundwater doesn’t need to be cleaned to drinking-water standards if its use as a potable water supply is unlikely or infeasible. And such unreasonable cleanup requirements make projects more expensive for the state and private parties, and make it less likely that responsible parties will come forward to do projects in the absence of state enforcement efforts,” Pokalsky said.

Reforms would bring even more private dollars into the state’s cleanup efforts, and result in more sites being cleaned up—and redeveloped—more quickly, while making sure that all cleanups are protective of public health and the environment. They would also reduce the state’s dependency on public dollars for site cleanup projects, making Superfund refinancing less burdensome on state taxpayers.

“The Business Council does not think we should let the state’s Superfund program run out of money, which would affect funding for cleanup projects and DEC staff salaries–although it is not clear that this is likely in this fiscal year,” Pokalsky said. “Imminent bankruptcy has been predicted for the Superfund since at least 1995, and it has not happened yet.” He noted that the Executive Budget said that the fund would remain solvent at least through next year.

“On the other hand, we should not devote hundreds of millions of additional dollars, and add hundreds of additional sites, to the Superfund program without making its cleanup procedures more efficient and its liability provisions more fair,” he said.

The Council strongly opposes any refinancing proposal that would impose significant new taxes and fees on the state’s business community, Pokalsky said.

The state’s business community already pays more than its fair share to clean state Superfund sites, he said. Responsible parties—mostly businesses—have already spent or committed to spend more than $2.5 billion cleaning up sites for which they are legally liable, he noted. The figure goes up by hundreds of millions more if oil-spill sites are included.

In addition, businesses have paid more than $300 million in hazardous waste generator fees, hazardous waste facility permit fees and “special assessments” on the treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes that help pay off the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act (EQBA), he said. EQBA, the source of Superfund monies, provided the state with $1.1 billion in borrowing authority to cleanup hazardous waste sites and municipal landfills.

Pokalsky also noted that businesses are paying the price to avoid creating future contamination. “Businesses have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade chemical and oil storage facilities to prevent releases into the environment, and to identify and respond more quickly to spills that do occur,” he said. “They pay the high cost of managing hazardous wastes in compliance with federal and state laws—and face substantial penalties for not doing so.”

“In addition, large quantity generators are required under both federal and state law to develop and implement hazardous waste reduction plans.”

Pokalsky noted that The New York State Superfund Management Board, an advisory body comprised of both business and environmental advocates, recommends that the state continue to finance state Superfund at an $80 million per year level.

To accomplish this, The Business Council believes that lawmakers should dedicate $80 million per year from existing General-Fund revenues to the state’s remediation fund. This represents about two-tenths of one percent of the state’s general fund spending, and is far less than is diverted from the General Fund each year to support the “Environmental Protection Fund” – a mechanism to fund land purchases, local recycling efforts, parks projects and other environmental improvements.

This permanent funding source would give the same degree of certainty to the Superfund program as did the 1986 EQBA, Pokalsky said. As with EQBA funds, the state legislature would have to authorize spending of these funds on an annual basis, he added.

If a comprehensive Superfund package – including a General Fund-based financing program – cannot be negotiated this session, The Business Council recommends that the legislature consider interim financing to address any actual Superfund shortfall that might exist, Pokalsky said. “The Governor and both houses of the legislature have recognized the need to make New York State’s economy—especially its upstate economy—more competitive,” he said. “The last thing we need is significant new taxes or fees imposed on the state’s manufacturing community, or to continue a program that is neither as efficient or effective as it could be.”


April 28, 2000