updated 1/9/2004 1:22:21 PM ET 2004-01-09T18:22:21

Cleanup work at 11 of the worst toxic dumps in the country hasn’t started because the Superfund program doesn’t have enough money, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general said Thursday.

The $3 billion program has a shortfall of nearly $175 million, according to the report.

“When funding is not sufficient, construction cannot begin; cleanups are performed in less than an optimal manner; and/or activities are stretched over longer periods of time,” the report said.

In addition to the 11 sites, there are four places where “emergency removal” of contaminants such as asbestos and lead is on hold for lack of $9.4 million.

Another $40.8 million is lacking for continuing cleanups at eight sites, the report said, and $6.1 million is needed to investigate contaminants at six additional sites.

The report focused on cleanup sites where the government can’t show who caused the pollution and, therefore, can’t make someone pay for it.

Lawmakers vs. EPA
The report was requested by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.; Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Hilda Solis, both D-Calif.; and Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt. In a statement, they said the “enormous funding deficiencies” threaten public health and the environment.

EPA officials defended the agency’s work, noting “many of these sites tend to be large, expensive and complex.”

In the past year, $292 million was budgeted for long-term cleanups and $142 million for short-term emergency removal of contaminants at 381 sites, the officials said in a statement.

“It is not unusual for some removal actions to span multiple years,” the officials said. “Should the number of sites or cost of cleanup exceed the allocated funds, work is conducted the following year.”

Since the Superfund program began in 1980, the EPA has completed cleanups at nearly 890 sites and now has more than 1,200 on its to-do list.

Tax wasn't renewed
EPA officials told Congress in November they finished cleanups at 40 sites in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, compared with 42 in the previous 12 months and 47 in fiscal 2001. During the Clinton administration, the EPA completed an average 76 cleanups a year.

A special tax on industry to help pay for cleanups expired in 1995. The GOP-controlled Congress rebuffed the Clinton administration’s efforts to reinstate it, and the Bush administration declined to ask Congress to revive it.

Congress appropriated $1.3 billion for Superfund cleanups in the latest fiscal year. Another $1.7 billion came from companies found responsible for polluting the sites.

Julie Wolk, an environmental health advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization, said the Bush administration should push Congress to reinstate the industry tax.

The 11 sites lacking money to begin work include Jennison-Wright Corp. in Granite City, Ill.; Continental Steel Corp. in Kokomo, Ind.; Marion Pressure Treating in Marion, La.; Atlas Tack Corp. in Fairhaven, Mass.; and Mohawk Tannery in Nashua, N.H.

Others are New Hampshire Plating Co. in Merrimack, N.H.; North Railroad Avenue in Espanola, N.M.; McCormick & Baxter Creosoting Co. in Portland, Ore.; Hart Creosoting Co. and Jasper Creosoting Co., both in Jasper, Texas; and Elizabeth Mine in Strafford, Vt.

The four sites where emergency removal is on hold are in Fairfield, Conn.; Beckemeyer, Ill.; Kenosha, Wis.; and Martinsville, Ind.

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