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Superfund cleanups slow to 24 this year

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency will finish 24 Superfund toxic waste cleanups this year, far fewer than the average 76 completed annually during the Clinton administration.

EPA initially targeted 40 Superfund sites for completed cleanups this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Forty cleanups were finished in fiscal 2005. Among the most common contaminants are asbestos, lead, mercury and radiation.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, blamed the Bush administration’s efforts to cut EPA spending for slowing the pace of cleanups, even though Congress ultimately sets the agency’s budget.

“This funding shortfall is a direct result of President Bush’s declining budget submissions over a number of years, particularly when adjusted for inflation,” Dingell said in a letter Wednesday to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

In February, Bush proposed cutting EPA’s budget for next year by almost 5 percent, to $7.1 billion. But he also proposed a slight increase in the Superfund program, to $1.24 billion.

EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said Thursday that the Superfund cleanup work “remains steady and is now concentrated at larger and more complicated sites.”

Since 1980, EPA has dealt with 1,562 Superfund sites, agency officials said Thursday. As of this week, 1,242 of those remain on the list of uncompleted cleanups, according to EPA’s Web site.

But along with the 320 that have been removed from the Superfund list because all the work has been completed, most of the cleanup work has been completed at hundreds of other sites, the officials said.

According to EPA data provided by Dingell, the Bush administration will have averaged 39 finished cleanups a year between 2001 and 2007.

He said Johnson and his staff “have attempted to obfuscate the problem” by claiming that cleanups take longer than they once did because they are more complex and bigger.

The complexity “is really no different than historical averages,” Dingell said.

Bush’s record exceeds that of his father’s presidency: an average of 29.5 finished cleanups a year from 1989 through 1992.