Superfund:

Trends in Spending for Site Cleanups

RCED-97-211: Published: Sep 4, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO analyzed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund spending from fiscal year (FY) 1987 through FY 1996 to determine: (1) of total Superfund spending, how much was for contractor cleanup work, in contrast with other activities; (2) of the money spent on contractor cleanup work, how much was spent on the actual cleanups, in contrast with cleanup preparation; and (3) whether a trend in spending for the actual cleanup could be determined for the years examined, and, if so, what accounted for that trend.

GAO noted that: (1) both the amount and share of money spent on contractor cleanup work increased from FY 1987 through FY 1996; (2) in FY 1987, $261 million (in constant 1996 dollars) was spent on contractor cleanup work, or 37 percent of the total Superfund spending of $702 million; (3) in FY 1996, $696 million was spent on contractor cleanup work, or 49 percent of the total Superfund spending of $1.4 billion; (4) in both years, the remaining funds were spent on administration, enforcement, and other Superfund activities; (5) of the money spent on contractor cleanup work, the amount and share spent on the actual cleanups also increased from FY 1987 through FY 1996; (6) in FY 1987, of the $261 million the EPA spent on contractor cleanup work, $142 million was for the actual cleanups, or 54 percent of the total; (7) in FY 1996, of the $696 million the agency spent on contractor cleanup work, $614 million went to the actual cleanups, or 88 percent of the total; (8) in both years, the remaining funds for contractor cleanup work were spent for cleanup preparation--that is, to study site contamination and design the cleanup action; (9) annual spending for the actual cleanups increased by about $472 million from FY 1987 through FY 1996; (10) about half of this increase resulted from spending at a few large-dollar sites (defined as those with $10 million or more in spending during any 1 year); (11) there were no large-dollar sites in 1987 or 1988; but by 1989, two large-dollar sites accounted for $28 million in annual spending; and by 1996, nine such sites accounted for $238 million in annual spending; (12) two other factors each contributed about 25 percent to the increased in the spending for the actual cleanups; (13) first, the remedial action spending at sites other than the large-dollar sites increased from $61 million in 1987 to $180 million in 1996, primarily because the number of these sites grew from 38 in 1987 to 165 in 1996; and (14) second, the amount of money spent on removal actions increased from $80 million in 1987 to $196 million in 1996, primarily to address the immediate threats at sites that were not on the National Priorities List.