Mountain View, Laurel Park, Lowell, Rose Center, Albion, Sunnyvale. Place names that evoke an image of comfortable communities nestling in natural surroundings. Places where abundant resources were combined with an entrepreneurial spirit to create a historically unprecedented material standard of living. Places named by those with a vision of the future whose progeny now share a crisis of the present--the threat to health and environmental quality from uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
In 1980, at the close of the environmental decade, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.1 The act created the Superfund as a mechanism to rectify the toxic legacy of the industrial and chemical revolutions. Implementation of the Superfund program became the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Over a decade later, there is general consensus that the program has failed. For both supporters and critics of the program, failure is epitomized by the fact that we have spent too much to achieve too little.
The thesis of this study is that Superfund has failed due to conflict over who will pay the toxic debt. The reason for conflict is relatively simple: the bill for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, estimated to exceed $100 billion, must be paid by federal and state governments and by corporations responsible for decades of unsound disposal. Many states, lacking adequate cleanup resources, have sought alternatives to active participation in the federal program. Corporations targeted to bear the financial burden of cleanup have resisted government actions and have attempted to shift the cleanup burden to other private parties and to taxpayers. They also have attempted to reduce the debt by limiting the pace and extent of cleanup. The resulting inaction has left the environmental burden on people living in proximity to Superfund sites: people