Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes:

An Overview of Superfund Reauthorization Issues

RCED-85-69: Published: Mar 29, 1985. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 1985.

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GAO reported on Superfund issues, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

GAO found that the cost and scope of the hazardous waste problem, the degree of health risks involved, and the cost of correcting these problems are unknown. Under the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no mandate to set nationwide cleanup standards or oversee state-conducted cleanups. The absence of standards complicates an already lengthy, complex process for cleaning up hazardous waste sites. EPA estimated that federal cleanup costs for priority sites, in 1983 dollars, could range from $7.6 billion to $22.7 billion and that cleanups could take until fiscal year 1999. As a result of the lack of national standards and compliance enforcement, EPA expects to clean up relatively few of the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Further, although individual states are assisting in cleanup efforts, the situation is not resulting in uniform protection from the dangers posed by hazardous waste sites. GAO concluded that the resolution of this issue may require Congress to weigh competing priorities and determine the extent to which it believes an expanded federal role at non-National Priorities List (NPL) sites is necessary.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The act was reauthorized on October 17, 1986. Although it mandated national cleanup standards for priority sites, it did not address the need for standards or federal oversight at nonpriority sites.

    Matter: Congress should consider the merits of changing the act's structure. This change would emphasize permanent, long-term remedies and entail: (1) assigning EPA a role in ensuring that a minimum level of protection from all sites is provided, including setting national standards as discussed in this report; and (2) allowing possible delegation of some authority to the states under EPA oversight. Congress should also require EPA to monitor state cleanup performance and report on the extent and adequacy of state actions. This would provide a database on which to evaluate the need for a greater federal role at non-NPL sites.


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