By Jeannine anderson
WASHINGTON – Congress should not force the states to pay for cleaning up the worst toxic waste sites, Maryland’s top environmental official told a House committee.
Congress is considering putting a limit on the number of toxic waste sites that could be added to the federal Superfund list, said Jane T. Nishida, secretary of the Department of the Environment.
Putting such a limit on the program “would pose significant problems for Maryland,” she said. Sites that would be eligible for the list “are of a caliber, complexity and cost that exceed state financial resources.”
Nishida spoke Wednesday at a hearing held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on water resources and environment.
There are now 13 active Superfund sites in Maryland and two other sites have been proposed to be added to the program.
It costs tens of millions of dollars to clean up each site, said Robin Grove, director for waste management at the Department of the Environment. In one case, the cost could approach $100 million, he said.
Congressional authorization for the federal Superfund law expired in 1994. As a result, the taxes on oil companies and chemical manufacturers that support the cleanup program have dried up.
To keep the program going, Congress needs to reauthorize the law.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, chairman of the subcommittee, said he and other GOP leaders are considering letting the Environmental Protection Agency delegate more responsibility for cleanups to the states.
“Please keep in mind that the states are [already] taking on more responsibility” for cleaning up designated sites, Nishida told the subcommittee.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, a member of the subcommittee, said he supports Boehlert’s effort to make changes to the Superfund program.
But, he added, “I think I would support Jane Nishida’s idea of not having a cap,” at least for the next few years. “We need a little flexibility.”
Rep. Robert Borski of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, opposes a cap, said Jennifer Laptook, his special assistant.
Jeff More, a subcommittee staffer, said the bill Boehlert is drafting would allow states to get federal help in extreme cases.
Nishida made a “legitimate point,” More said. “If some really terrible site is discovered, the states probably should have the right to hand that over to the feds.”
On the other hand, Gilchrest said, a cap would have one advantage: it would push Maryland to be more vigilant about preventing pollution. If the state knew it would have to clean up future toxic sites, it would be more aggressive about enforcing environmental regulations, he said. “There just simply isn’t enough money to clean up toxic waste sites,” the Eastern Shore congressman said. “We have to ensure that there are no more of these sites.” -30-