The experience of the first half of the 1980s shattered congressional expectations that Superfund as initially conceived would substantially alleviate the threats posed by uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Congressional investigation into the cause of failure merged into a debate over solutions and the design of an effective Superfund program. Early congressional hearings highlighted the Environmental Protection Agency's faltering development of the rules and guidelines necessary for implementation. By 1982 oversight hearings were dominated by congressional investigation into the efforts of the Reagan administration to derail the program and guarantee that there would be no Son of Superfund. By mid-1983 examination of agency implementation shared the center stage with congressional debate on redesign of the program. From 1984 to 1986 the debate over redesign progressed against the background of EPA efforts to revitalize the Superfund and continued in a joint congressional conference committee until passage of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) in October 1986.
The desire by many in Congress to redesign Superfund was motivated in large part by the failures associated with agency promulgation and implementation. The sense of urgency was fed by greatly expanded estimates of the number of traditional Superfund sites. The intrusion of deregulatory politics into EPA decision making suggested the need to limit agency discretion and to supplement congressional oversight with expanded avenues for public pressure. Congress debated the wisdom of holding EPA to mandatory cleanup schedules, requiring that cleanup satisfy uniform national standards, requiring a preference for permanent cleanup technologies, and allowing citizen suits to force agency action. Controversies surrounding EPA's enforcement program suggested the need to rationalize the settlement process. Congress was divided