WASHINGTON-House and Senate subcommittee chairmen have devised different plans for limiting a business owner's cleanup liability under Superfund. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has issued a revised model consent decree designed to expedite Superfund cleanup negotiations. The revised decree forbids big polluters from pursuing third-party claims against small businesses, homeowners or non-profit organizations.
Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Hazardous Materials, issued his Superfund principles July 17-three weeks after Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control and Risk Management, released his.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, presented his Superfund plan July 24.
The Smith and Oxley plans will curtail retroactive liability on those who put waste in a Superfund site and followed all waste disposal rules that were in effect at the time.
Mr. Oxley's plan cuts off liability for hazardous waste disposals made before Dec. 31, 1986; Mr. Smith's, before Dec. 11, 1980, the day the Superfund law passed.
Moving the cutoff date to 1987 will ``truly remove (trial lawyers) from the cleanup equation,'' according to Mr. Oxley.
Mr. Boehlert, a GOP moderate, thinks both the Oxley and Smith plans are untenable. Instead, Mr. Boehlert proposed eliminating retroactive liability at 230 ``co-disposal'' municipal landfills across the U.S. More than half of all small businesses would be excused from Superfund liability under that plan, he said.
At a July 18 hearing before Mr. Oxley's subcommittee, the Clinton administration came out strongly against abolishing retro-active liability, saying it would drive up cleanup costs for the EPA and the states and give an edge to recalcitrant waste generators over those who cooperate with cleanups.
Along with the rest of industry, tire manufacturers and dealers have desired an end to retroactive liability, which they say penalizes them for legal disposal.
They also complain about third-party lawsuits, which allow larger companies to lessen their Superfund liability by suing smaller firms that contributed to the site.
The Justice Department model consent decree, announced July 14 with an effective date of July 13, forbids anyone who settles with the federal government on Superfund cleanup from pursuing individuals or small firms in third-party suits.
The decree also eliminates a provision that required defendants to commit to additional site remedies if the original cleanup failed. It authorizes mediation to solve disputes and eliminates some penalties.