WASHINGTON-The threat of retroactive liability in the cleanup costs of Superfund sites would be squelched under new Superfund provisions unveiled March 6 by the House Commerce Committee. The provision provides waste generators and transporters with a full pre-1987 repeal of retroactive liability. This means more than 90 percent of all potentially responsible parties in Superfund-including all rubber manufacturers, tire dealers, retreaders and garage owners-will no longer be threatened with cleanup costs and third-party lawsuits from toxic waste sites 10, 20 or 30 years old.
Small businesses lose the de minimis exemption for Superfund that they had under last year's House bill. But between the pre-1987 repeal and provisions discouraging third-party lawsuits, tire dealers and other small businesses should be safe, according to congressional sources.
``Whatever happens with Superfund, I think all the retroactive liability provisions (in various bills) will take care of the little guy,'' said Roy E. Littlefield III, government relations director of the American Retreaders Association.
``Our main concern is that Superfund will become an election-year football,'' Mr. Littlefield said. ``I'm not sure the Democrats will deliver an environmental bill for the Republicans.''
The new provisions are part of the effort of House Republicans to fashion a Superfund bill that House Democrats and the White House also can endorse.
Under the new retroactive liability provisions, only current and former waste site owners and operators will be responsible for paying cleanup costs for sites that date from before 1987.
Eliminating generators and transporters from liability, according to sources, will free virtually all money spent on litigation-nearly half the money spent altogether on Superfund-for actual cleanups.
For post-1987 Superfund sites, allocators will assign strict ``fair share'' liability for each potentially responsible party. Those who agree to the allocations are exempt from joint and several liability.