Policy Analysis No. 89

The Real Superfund Scandal

By James Bovard
August 14, 1987

Executive Summary

Superfund has failed to safeguard the nation’s environment. After close to seven years, fewer than 20 hazardous waste sites have been fully cleaned up, and many of those are reportedly still leaking. The nation’s premier environmental program is largely a move-a-dump-a-day shuffle, a merry-go-round for hazardous wastes. And, according to one government report, most of the disposal sites that have received waste from Superfund sites also pose serious health threats—meaning that Superfund has accomplished little or nothing.[1]

Much of the government’s Superfund budget has been spent on self-defeating and unjust litigation and shoddy, repetitive feasibility studies on the possibilities for cleanup. As a result of the government’s litigation strategies, corporations choose to drag out court battles forever. As a result of its low-quality research and analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has little or no idea what it is doing. Yet in the 1986 reauthorization and expansion of Superfund, Congress and the Reagan administration paid little attention to the program’s inherent defects.

In many ways, Superfund has made the environment a more dangerous place. Fear of unlimited liability has scared off private businesses from doing voluntary cleanups. An atmosphere of public hysteria that EPA has sometimes stirred up intentionally has created a nationwide NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) response that is causing a dangerous shortage of disposal sites for currently generated hazardous waste. Worst of all, perhaps we have wasted time that could have been used to effectively address the real hazards presented by abandoned hazardous waste dumps.

Even though Superfund has been plagued with problems and many experts have expressed grave doubts about its effectuality, last year Congress reauthorized the program and increased its five-year budget fivefold, from $1.6 billion to over $9 billion. Yet much of the new program is designed, instead of for solving serious threats, for providing photo opportunities for politicians.

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James Bovard is an adjunct policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He has written widely on environmental issues.