WASHINGTON-A House subcommittee voted 15-11 on Nov. 9 to approve a Superfund reauthorization bill which, supporters say, will lift most of the liability burden from the backs of small businesses in the U.S. Democrats on the subcommittee, however, denounced the legislation as ``abandon(ing) the `polluter pays' principle'' and caving in to the demands of special interests.
Although the bill, H.R. 2500, does not repeal retroactive liability for Superfund cleanups as an earlier House version did, it does provide significant exemptions, such as municipal landfills and waste generators who contribute less than 1 percent of the total waste at any Superfund site.
Three key Republican legislators-Reps. Thomas Bliley of Virginia, Michael Oxley of Ohio and Sherwood Boehlert of New York-announced a further amendment Nov. 7 to aid small business.
The amendment will force large corporations who bring frivolous third-party liability suits against small businesses to pay those businesses' court costs.
Third-party Superfund lawsuits have long been a heavy burden on small companies, including tire dealers. One such suit in Minnesota forced 70 tire dealers to pay many thousands of dollars each, for contributing tires-which the Environmental Protection Agency has never defined as a hazardous waste-to a Superfund site.
Also, the amendment frees recycling sites for used oil and batteries, and people who contribute to those sites, from liability. Brokers of most recyclable materials, including scrap rubber but not whole tires, were already exempt under the bill.
``Superfund's reign of terror over small business is about to come to an end,'' said Mr. Oxley, chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee, during a Nov. 7 press conference.
Both the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Automobile Dealers Association praised the amendment.
The NFIB's Mark Isakowitz said ``both provisions are essential and deserve our strong support. They get virtually all our members out of the Superfund nightmare, and that's what counts.''
Detractors of the bill, however, see it as inadequate to protect public health. ``Instead of providing faster cleanups at lower cost, (the bill) would almost always prefer that a toxic mess be covered over rather than cleaned up,'' said Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon, ranking Democratic member of the Oxley subcommittee.
Full House Commerce Committee action on the bill is expected after the Thanksgiving recess.