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March 29, 2001

Council: Senate Superfund proposal is 'a major step forward'

The Superfund refinancing and reform proposal advanced in the Senate's budget resolution is "a major step forward that reflects our mutual goals of protecting both the environment and the economy," according to Ken Pokalsky, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for The Business Council.

The Senate's proposal, which came in response to the Governor's Executive Budget, calls for a use-based approach to site remediation, a more formal program for brownfield cleanup and redevelopment (including targeted tax credits), and no new fees targeting the state's manufacturers. The Senate also rejected the Governor's proposal for onerous new enforcement mechanisms.

"The Business Council believes that the Superfund program should be designed to clean the most possible sites, as fast as possible, to achieve a reasonable environmental standard, and with a reasonable expenditure of private sector and taxpayers' dollars," Pokalsky said.

"The way to do that is to have cleanup standards and liability policies that encourage private parties to clean sites," he added. "We think the Senate recognized what was positive about the Governor's proposal, and what needed to be changed."

Financing issues: The Senate rejects fees that the Governor has proposed: $20 million in new hazardous waste fees, $1.3 million in oil tank registration fees, and $5 million in oversight fees for the state's voluntary cleanup program.

Instead, the Senate wants to dedicate existing corporate franchise tax revenues to the Superfund program. It also wants to trim the Governor's budget request for Superfund and brownfield programs by $19 million.

The Council opposes any new fees on industry as part of refinancing, and is urging the permanent use of General-Fund revenues to refinance Superfund at $80 million a year.

Program recommendations: The Senate proposal supports creation of cleanup standards that reflect the intended use of the site being cleaned, which The Council also supports. The Senate also supports creation of a statutory "voluntary cleanup" program to clarify and codify the regulations and standards that will govern voluntary cleanups of all types of contaminated sites.

There are no clear standards for such cleanups now; instead, they are negotiated on a case-by-case basis by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the party proposing the cleanup, Pokalsky said.

The Senate also indicated that it opposes new enforcement provisions, including "treble damages" and creation of state-level natural resource damage claims.

Liability relief: The Senate proposal does not explicitly address another key Superfund refinancing and reform issue, liability relief for parties that complete state-approved cleanups. However, Pokalsky said, there are indications that the Senate is considering supporting such liability relief.