WASHINGTON-Several business groups-including some partly representing tire interests-are supporting the Clinton administration's plans to revive Superfund reauthorization, a version of which was approved May 17 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In many cases, however, the support is equivocal. ``We appreciate the efforts of the president to move this legislation forward, and the president's bill includes small-business initiatives similar to our own proposals,'' said John Satagaj, president of the Small Business Legislative Council (SBLC), a coalition that includes the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association.
The administration presented its Superfund package at a White House meeting May 3.
The new bill attempts to mollify critics of the earlier legislation by changing provisions in the three most controversial sections, covering liability, remedy selection and community participation.
Among those changes are:
*Exemptions for businesses with 100 or fewer employees for any Superfund liability concerning the disposal of municipal solid waste;
``A great deal of deference'' given by the government to the decisions of third-party allocators on how to assess liability in a Superfund cleanup;
A provision allowing the public to attend all meetings where cleanup decisions are made;
A ``national cleanup formula'' to determine cleanup levels, along with specific criteria for the government and community to use in determining reasonably anticipated future land use; and
A 10-year authorization of the Environmental Insurance Resolution Fund to help liable parties pay for Superfund cleanups, with a provision to dissolve the fund if 85 percent of private parties do not agree to participate in it.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol M. Browner praised the bill, calling it ``a legislative vehicle that can help make Superfund work.'' She called the package ``a user-friendly but lawyer-unfriendly plan.''
Although retroactive and joint-and-several liability-the bane of small manufacturers and the auto aftermarket-are retained in the new bill, they are there only as ``safety nets,'' according to Rep. Al Swift, D-Wash., chairman of the Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.
As passed by Mr. Swift's subcommittee, the bill sets up a process of strict liability allocations by a third party, in an effort to speed settlement and reduce litigation. The allocations are non-binding, but waste generators face possible joint-and-several liability damages if they refuse to accept them, and the government can reject the allocations only if it has evidence they were tainted by fraud.
The bill's liabilty provisions, however, do not satisfy the NTDRA, which has made it clear the SBLC doesn't speak for it where Superfund is concerned.
``Our problem is that the retroactive liability aspect of Superfund is unbelievable,'' said Charles D. ``Tony'' Hylton, NTDRA communications director. Many tire dealers, especially in Minnesota, have been forced to pay large settlements in third-party Superfund liability lawsuits, Mr. Hylton noted, even though they obeyed all applicable laws and the EPA doesn't define scrap tires as hazardous waste.
Sections of the bill must pass the House Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees before it can be sent to the full House. The Senate Superfund, Recycling and Solid Waste Management Subcommittee, meanwhile, has just begun discussion of its own Superfund bill.