Toxic Debts and the Superfund Dilemma

By Harold C. Barnett | Go to book overview
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ENDING A DECADE OF FALSE STARTS
CHAPTER 9

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act enhanced EPA powers and circumscribed its discretion. It set the stage for a substantial increase in fund- and responsible party-financed cleanup activity, for environmentally effective and permanent cleanups, and for increased state and community involvement in cleanup decisions.

A redesign of EPA's implementation strategy was needed to meet these expectations. The goals of SARA would define the ends to be achieved while an incorporation of new powers would become the means. EPA did not pursue this course of action. Rather, the agency made modifications to its existing strategy and set fund conservation and the fulfillment of nonenvironmental performance goals as its primary ends. It soon became apparent that within the confines of its strategy, resources, and leadership, EPA could not align these ends with the environmental expectations of SARA or the broader expectations of an efficient and equitable program.

Superfund implementation continued to be constrained by Reagan administration hostility to environmental protection expenditures and by an EPA leadership resistant to change. The election of George Bush and the appointment of conservationist William Reilly to head EPA promised to resolve mounting conflicts between Congress and the agency. Acknowledging the need for a mid-course correction, Reilly soon produced a management review containing an insightful and straightforward evaluation of program failings. The review was followed by announcement of a new strategy built on the dual principles of enforcement first and worst sites first.

By late 1990 quantitative measures of Superfund activity suggested that the program was finally on the right track. EPA still faced the challenge of resolving other program-related conflicts initiated under the Reagan admin

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