oversight

Superfund: Progress and Challenges

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-05-25.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                    United States General Accounting Office

GAO                 Testimony
                    Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works,
                    U.S. Senate




To Be Released
at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Tuesday
                    SUPERFUND
May 25, 1999


                    Progress and Challenges
                    Statement for the Record by
                    David G. Wood, Associate Director,
                    Environmental Protection Issues,
                    Resources, Community, and Economic
                    Development Division




GAO/T-RCED-99-202
    Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

    As you deliberate possible legislative changes to the Superfund hazardous
    waste cleanup program, we appreciate the opportunity to present this
    statement for the record, which discusses (1) the progress, cleanup pace,
    and accomplishments of the program; (2) trends in the amount of funds
    that EPA spends on administrative and support activities in the program
    and the amount of these costs that it recovers from parties contributing to
    contamination at Superfund sites; (3) the number and types of waste sites
    that may be cleaned up by the program in the future; and (4) barriers to
    the redevelopment of brownfields—abandoned and idled industrial
    properties, often located in economically distressed urban areas—and
    federal efforts to remove these barriers.

    In summary, our work has shown that:

•   The Superfund program has made progress in cleaning up a number of our
    nation’s hazardous waste sites. Preliminary results from our ongoing work
    to assess the status of cleanups are consistent with EPA’s statements about
    the number of sites that have completed, or will soon complete,
    construction of the cleanup remedy. EPA credits this progress in part to its
    administrative reforms, such as those intended to improve the selection of
    cleanup remedies at sites, which were intended to result in a fairer and
    more efficient and effective program. The agency has stated that recent
    cleanups are faster, with some sites spending 8 years in the program. We
    last reported on the pace of cleanups in March 1997, when we found that
    the most recently-completed sites had spent an average of 10.6 years in the
    Superfund program.1 Because we have not recently done work assessing
    the pace of cleanup activities, we cannot validate EPA’s statements that
    cleanups are completed more quickly. However, we also reported in 1997
    that EPA had difficulties measuring the results achieved by most of its
    administrative reforms, including whether they made the program fairer,
    more efficient, or more effective.2
•   EPA has been spending more of its Superfund dollars on cleanup support,
    including administrative and support activities, in recent years. From fiscal
    years 1996 to 1997, spending for support activities increased from about 51
    to 54 percent of total Superfund expenditures, while spending for cleanup
    activities decreased from about 48 to 46 percent. At the same time, EPA has
    not recovered large portions of its administrative costs from responsible

    1
     Superfund: Times to Complete the Assessment and Cleanup of Hazardous Waste Sites
    (GAO/RCED-97-20, Mar. 31, 1997).
    2
     Superfund: Information on EPA’s Administrative Reforms (GAO/RCED-97-174R, May 30, 1997).



    Page 1                                                                    GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                 parties. EPA lost the opportunity to collect almost $2 billion since the
                 program began because it did not assess parties more of the costs the
                 agency incurred to run the program, called indirect costs. To increase the
                 amount of indirect costs recovered, we recommended in an April 1999
                 report that EPA use new indirect cost rates that the agency has developed.3
                 Cost recovery program managers stated that they plan to use the rates as
                 soon as they are approved within the agency, which they expect to occur
                 by September 30, 1999.
             •   The future Superfund cleanup workload depends largely on the number
                 and types of sites that states decide to manage within their own cleanup
                 programs, rather than refer them to EPA for Superfund consideration. In
                 recent years, EPA decreased the number of sites it proposed to clean up
                 under Superfund, while many states were simultaneously taking on more
                 sites under their own cleanup programs. EPA officials expect future
                 Superfund sites to be ones that the states cannot address, such as large,
                 complex, and costly sites, or those where no responsible party is available
                 to pay for cleanup. Our recent survey of EPA’s inventory of potential
                 Superfund sites indicated that about 1,800 sites still need cleanup, but the
                 states and EPA have not determined who will manage these sites. We
                 recommended that EPA work with the states to assign responsibility for
                 these sites and to better share information on the status of state cleanups
                 at sites posing high health and environmental risks. The agency agreed
                 with our recommendation and is taking actions to implement it.
             •   Fears of being held liable under Superfund law for extensive cleanup costs
                 and facing high costs to assess a site for possible contamination are major
                 barriers to the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields. States want
                 both (1) the authority to relieve parties that clean up sites under state
                 programs from Superfund liability and (2) federal financial support to
                 address brownfields. Federal agencies have provided limited liability relief
                 and hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support, most recently
                 through an initiative called the Brownfield National Partnership Action
                 Agenda. However, the agencies do not have the comprehensive data
                 needed to measure the extent to which the Partnership achieved its
                 intended economic outcomes of increased jobs, private sector investment
                 in brownfields, and acres of preserved green space.


                 In 1980, the Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental
Background       Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), creating the
                 Superfund program to clean up highly-contaminated hazardous waste


                 3
                  Superfund: Progress Made by EPA and Other Federal Agencies to Resolve Program Management
                 Issues (GAO/RCED-99-111, Apr. 29, 1999).



                 Page 2                                                                   GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                       sites. CERCLA authorizes EPA to compel the parties responsible for the
                       contaminated sites to clean them up. Under CERCLA, parties are liable
                       regardless of fault, and at some sites, each party involved can be held
                       responsible for the entire cost of the cleanup. The law also allows EPA to
                       pay for cleanups and seek reimbursement from the parties. EPA places
                       sites that it determines need long-term cleanup actions, called remedial
                       actions, on its National Priorities List (NPL). EPA or private parties then
                       study the sites for risks and select, design, and construct cleanup
                       remedies. Beginning in 1993, EPA began three rounds of administrative
                       actions it could take to reform the program, short of legislative changes,
                       partly in response to criticisms that cleanups were long and costly.

                       All states have established their own enforcement cleanup programs
                       similar to Superfund and many have created voluntary programs that
                       handle sites ranging from smaller, less contaminated sites, including
                       brownfields, to more highly contaminated sites that could qualify for a
                       Superfund cleanup. States maintain that these programs accomplish site
                       cleanups more quickly and efficiently than Superfund.

                       To help states and localities clean up and redevelop more brownfields, in
                       July 1996 EPA created the Interagency Working Group on Brownfields, with
                       staff from more than 20 federal departments and agencies. In developing a
                       national strategy for brownfields, agencies identified specific actions they
                       would take to support brownfield redevelopment and the funding they
                       would provide for these activities during fiscal years 1997 and 1998. On
                       May 13, 1997, the administration publicly announced that agencies planned
                       to take more than 100 actions and provide about $469 million for
                       brownfields under its new Brownfield National Partnership Action
                       Agenda.


                       In May 12, 1999, testimony before the Subcommittee on Water Resources
Superfund Has Made     and the Environment, House Committee on Transportation and
Progress Cleaning Up   Infrastructure, EPA’s Administrator reported considerable progress in
Sites                  completing cleanups at those sites already in the Superfund program.
                       Specifically, the Administrator noted that EPA had made final cleanup
                       decisions for 990, or 80 percent, of the 1,233 sites already on the NPL. She
                       further noted that 90 percent of NPL sites had begun or completed cleanup
                       construction: construction had begun at 464 sites, construction was
                       complete at 599 sites, and shorter-term cleanup actions, called removals,
                       were underway at an additional 208 sites. Earlier EPA projections indicated
                       that it would complete construction of cleanup remedies at almost all sites



                       Page 3                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-202
by 2005, although some remedies, such as systems to pump and treat
groundwater, would continue to operate for a number of years until all
contamination had been addressed. Finally, according to the
Administrator’s testimony, the Superfund program has cleaned more than
132 million cubic yards of hazardous soil, solid waste, and sediment and
more than 341 billion gallons of hazardous liquid waste, groundwater, and
surface water. The program has also provided hundreds of thousands of
people with alternative drinking water supplies. EPA credits much of this
success to its administrative reforms of the program.

Our recent reports and ongoing work show similar rates of progress in the
program. For example, last year, we reported that EPA expected to have
final cleanup decisions in place at 95 percent of nonfederal sites by the
end of fiscal year 1999.4 In ongoing work, we have obtained information on
the status and accomplishments of all nonfederal NPL sites at which the
construction of cleanup remedies is not yet complete.5 We asked the EPA
cleanup managers for each of the sites to provide information on the site’s
cleanup status, the number and types of cleanup actions taken, and the
amount of contamination they addressed. While we have not fully analyzed
this data, our preliminary results show progress in the program similar to
EPA’s recent statistics.


One reason for this progress may be EPA’s decision, in 1993, to make the
completion of construction at existing sites the Superfund program’s top
priority and to reduce the number of sites it brought into the program, as
shown in figure 1.




4
 Superfund: Information on the Status of Sites (GAO/RCED-98-241, Aug. 28, 1998).
5
At the request of Representative John Dingell, Ranking Minority Member, House Commerce
Committee.



Page 4                                                                        GAO/T-RCED-99-202
Figure 1: Numbers of Sites Listed on
the NPL Each Year Compared to the
                                       Number of sites
Number of Sites That Completed
Construction of Final Cleanup          300
Remedies, 1986 Through 1998
                                       250

                                       200

                                       150

                                       100

                                        50

                                         0
                                                1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999

                                                        NPL listings           Construction completions


                                       Source: Compiled by GAO from Environmental Protection Agency data.




                                       The agency also attributes this progress to its administrative reform efforts
                                       that were intended to make the program faster, fairer, and more efficient
                                       and effective. We reviewed these reform efforts and, in a 1997 report,
                                       found that for most of them, EPA had not identified specific, measurable
                                       accomplishments to be able to determine if the program had achieved
                                       these results. At that time, EPA reported estimated cost savings and other
                                       measurable benefits for only 6 of its 45 reforms. EPA could fully document
                                       these accomplishments for only 3 of these 6 reforms, including
                                       establishing the National Remedy Review Board. The agency could
                                       partially document that it achieved cost savings from one other
                                       reform—using more advanced cleanup technologies. However, EPA could
                                       not document the extent to which the final two of the six reforms had the
                                       intended effect of reducing cleanup costs for responsible parties.
                                       Furthermore, EPA officials told us that they did not expect to be able to
                                       quantify the accomplishments attributable to many of the remaining
                                       reforms. We anticipate reviewing the administrative reforms in the near
                                       future to determine if these limitations in measuring their results continue.

                                       Despite the progress in the program, the Congress has been concerned
                                       that it takes too much time for sites to complete construction of their
                                       cleanup remedies. In March 1997, we reported that the sites that




                                       Page 5                                                               GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                        completed construction in 1996 had been added to the NPL an average of
                        10.6 years previously. We also found that much of the time taken to
                        complete cleanups was spent during the early planning phases of the
                        cleanup process, including the selection of the cleanup remedies to be
                        used at the site, with relatively less time spent on construction work.

                        The Administrator’s May 12 testimony included information on the 175
                        sites that completed construction in 1997 and 1998 combined. According
                        to the testimony, 111 of these sites, or about two-thirds, were added to the
                        NPL during the 1990s and had completed construction in less than 8 years
                        indicating that the pace of the Superfund cleanups had improved.
                        However, we note that this is likely a minimum average; 447 sites were
                        added to the NPL between 1990 and 1998, inclusive, and it is not possible
                        today to calculate an average duration time for all of these sites because
                        most of them have not yet reached the construction complete milestone.
                        Conclusive data on how the average durations of Superfund sites may
                        have changed over time will not be available until definitive completion
                        dates are available for all sites.


                        Based on our detailed analyses of spending in the Superfund program,6 we
EPA Is Incurring More   have reported that the share of Superfund expenditures that go to cleanup
and Recovering Less     contractors for the study, design, and implementation of cleanups
Administrative Costs    increased from fiscal years 1987 through 1996, but declined in fiscal year
                        1997. We also reported that between fiscal years 1996 and 1997, EPA’s
                        Superfund costs for administrative and support activities correspondingly
                        increased (see fig. 2).




                        6
                        Superfund: Trends in Spending for Site Cleanups (GAO/RCED-97-211, Sept. 4, 1997) and Superfund:
                        Analysis of Contractor Cleanup Spending (GAO/RCED-98-221, Aug. 4, 1998).



                        Page 6                                                                      GAO/T-RCED-99-202
Figure 2: Superfund Spending for
Contractor Cleanup Work and Other               1996                                                 1997
Program Activities, Fiscal Years
1996-97, Dollars in Millions
                                                   5.7%                Study/                                              Study/
                                                                                                        5.3%
                                                                       Design                                              Design
                                                                       $81                                                 $76


                                                                       Admin./                                             Admin./
                                                       21.2%           Support                              24.4%          Support
                                        43.5%                          $299                 40.5%                          $355

                                                                       Other                                               Other
                                                   29.6%               costs                           29.8%               costs
                                                                       $417                                                $432


                                                                       Cleanup                                             Cleanup
                                                                       actions                                             actions
                                                                       $614                                                $588


                                    Note: “Other costs” includes costs for enforcement activities, research and
                                    development/laboratories, and other directly related costs.

                                    Source: Superfund: Analysis of Contractor Cleanup Spending (GAO/RCED-98-221, Aug. 4, 1998).




                                    At the same time, we reported that EPA has lost the opportunity to recover
                                    about $2 billion of its indirect costs—the administrative costs of operating
                                    the program—from responsible parties. This is because the methodology
                                    that EPA used to calculate the amount of indirect costs it would charge
                                    parties excluded a large portion of these costs.

                                    For the past several years, EPA has consistently succeeded in getting
                                    responsible parties to conduct cleanups at about 70 percent of Superfund
                                    sites. Since the beginning of the Superfund program through fiscal year
                                    1998, EPA estimates that responsible parties have committed to perform
                                    $15.5 billion worth of cleanups, not counting their administrative
                                    expenses, and the agency has spent about $16 billion in the Superfund
                                    program. EPA considers about $5 billion of its costs as unrecoverable
                                    because, for example, the agency could not find any financially viable
                                    responsible parties or had agreed during settlement negotiations that
                                    parties did not have to pay all past costs owed to the agency. Of the
                                    remaining approximately $11 billion that the agency spent, parties had




                                    Page 7                                                                        GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                                       agreed to reimburse EPA about $2.4 billion, or about a quarter of its
                                       expenditures, as of the end of fiscal year 1998 (see fig. 3).


Figure 3: Status of EPA’s Efforts to
Recover $11 Billion in Superfund                                                   Costs EPA has not yet tried
Program Costs From Fiscal Year 1981                                                to recover ($3)
Through Fiscal Year 1998 (Dollars in
Billions)                                                                          Indirect costs excluded by EPA
                                                                                   and potentially recoverable because
                                                                                   cases have not yet been settled ($1.3)
                                                               12%
                                                  27%


                                                                      18%          Indirect costs excluded by EPA
                                                                                   and no longer recoverable because
                                                                                   cases have been settled ($1.9)


                                                 22%              21%              Costs EPA is currently trying to
                                                                                   recover ($2.3)




                                                                                   Costs parties have agreed
                                                                                   to pay ($2.4)


                                       Source: GAO presentation of EPA data




                                       However, EPA lost the opportunity to recover $1.9 billion of indirect costs
                                       because it did not revise its indirect cost rate to include all appropriate
                                       costs before it entered into a final recovery settlement with these parties.
                                       Now, in order to comply with federal accounting standards, EPA has
                                       developed a new methodology that more accurately accounts for these
                                       indirect costs. Cost recovery program managers estimate that if EPA used
                                       the new methodology, the agency could recover about $629 million of the
                                       $1.3 billion in indirect costs that are still potentially recoverable because
                                       EPA has not entered into final settlements. According to cost recovery
                                       program officials, they have not yet implemented the new methodology
                                       because they are awaiting approval from EPA; the Department of Justice,
                                       which litigates cost-recovery cases; and an independent accounting firm




                                       Page 8                                                          GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                     hired to review the methodology. Until EPA uses the new methodology, it
                     will continue to lose the opportunity to recover these funds.


                     More than 3,000 potential Superfund sites in EPA’s inventory have been
Number and Type of   waiting several years or more for the agency to decide whether it will add
Future Superfund     them to the NPL. EPA and state officials believe that more than half of these
Sites Is Uncertain   sites need cleanup work, but they have not divided cleanup
                     responsibilities for these sites between them. Whether EPA adds these sites
                     to the NPL depends on how risky they are and whether EPA or the states
                     have cleanup plans for them, have already taken some cleanup actions at
                     them, and states agree to add them.

                     In November 1998, we reported on the results of a survey that we
                     conducted with EPA regions, other federal agencies, and the states, asking
                     them about the characteristics of the 3,036 potential NPL sites, the status of
                     any cleanup actions at them, and respondents’ opinions on whether they
                     would be added to the NPL.7 We determined that 1,789, or more than one
                     half, could still be added, and that many of them presented human health
                     and environmental risks. For example, respondents reported that about
                     one-third of the 1,789 sites are already contaminating drinking water and
                     another half could contaminate drinking water in the future. About
                     96 percent of the sites are located in populated areas within a half-mile of
                     residences or places of regular employment. The remaining 1,234 sites
                     were not likely to be listed because they already have final cleanup actions
                     underway or they aren’t risky enough.

                     When we asked respondents to rank the overall risk of these sites, the
                     respondents judged that for about 17 percent, the current risks posed to
                     human health and the environment were high and for another 10 percent,
                     the sites may pose high risks in the future if they are not cleaned up. For
                     another third of these sites, respondents could not or did not provide
                     information on the type or severity of the risks that they posed, as shown
                     in figure 4.




                     7
                      Hazardous Waste: Unaddressed Risks at Many Potential Superfund Sites (GAO/RCED-98-8, Nov. 30,
                     1998).



                     Page 9                                                                     GAO/T-RCED-99-202
Figure 4: Number of Sites Potentially
Eligible for the NPL With High,
Average, and Low Potential Risks




                                        Source: Hazardous Waste: Unaddressed Risks at Many Potential Superfund Sites
                                        (GAO/RCED-99-8, Nov. 30, 1998).




                                        According to respondents, interim cleanup actions have been taken at 686,
                                        or more than a third, of the 1,789 sites, and more often at sites considered
                                        to pose high risks. For the remaining two-thirds of the sites, either no
                                        cleanup actions have been taken or respondents did not provide
                                        information on such actions. Many of the sites with no cleanup actions
                                        have been in either EPA’s or a state’s inventory for a long time, as much as
                                        10 years or more.

                                        As to whether cleanup actions will be taken in the future at these sites and
                                        whether EPA, states, or responsible parties would take them, we are not
                                        forecasting how many of the 1,789 sites EPA would address by adding them
                                        to the NPL. However, for 232, or 13 percent of them, either EPA or a state
                                        respondent believed that they might be added to the NPL. Only 26 of the 232
                                        sites were cited by both the EPA and state officials as likely to be placed on
                                        the NPL (see fig.5).




                                        Page 10                                                                  GAO/T-RCED-99-202
Figure 5: Estimates of the Likely Final
Cleanup Outcome for 1,789 Potentially
Eligible Sites




                                          Note: “Other sites” includes sites likely to be cleaned up under other EPA programs (43), sites
                                          that either EPA or state programs may clean up (13), and sites that are reportedly unlikely to be
                                          cleaned up (19).

                                          Source: Hazardous Waste: Unaddressed Risks at Many Potential Superfund Sites
                                          (GAO/RCED-99-8, Nov. 30, 1998).




                                          For another one third of the 1,789 sites, respondents estimated that states
                                          would take responsibility for them but did not know to what extent
                                          responsible parties would participate in the cleanups at most of these
                                          sites. Such participation is important because about half of the states
                                          reported that they did not have sufficient financial capability to address
                                          many additional sites. However, about 20 percent also reported that they
                                          did not have sufficient enforcement authority to get private parties to pay
                                          either. We did not receive enough information on one half of the sites to
                                          determine whether future cleanup actions would be taken and who would
                                          take them.

                                          In our April 1999 report, we discussed the changing role of states in
                                          Superfund. According to cleanup managers in 4 of EPA’s 10 regions, the
                                          states have taken on a greater role in determining which sites will be
                                          added to the NPL. First, some state cleanup programs have extensive
                                          experience at managing more cleanups. Furthermore, voluntary programs
                                          get around states’ limited financial capabilities because in most cases,
                                          parties must pay a fee to clean up a site under a voluntary program. In



                                          Page 11                                                                        GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                         some states, the fees are high enough so that the programs are self
                         financed. Therefore, some states more often prefer to use their own
                         programs to address sites, including sites risky enough to qualify for the
                         NPL. Furthermore, as a matter of policy, EPA now seeks concurrence from
                         the relevant state governor before proposing to add a site to the NPL. Since
                         adopting this policy in 1995, EPA proposed to add another 154 sites to the
                         NPL through February 1999, but governors did not agree to add 31, or
                         one-fifth, of these sites.

                         The regions also stated that if EPA anticipates that the state will clean up
                         the site, the agency usually assigns the site a low priority for Superfund
                         consideration. Also, EPA will not take further action at the site unless the
                         state asks the agency to do so. As a result, the regions expect that states
                         will turn sites over to EPA if the states have difficulty in getting responsible
                         parties to pay for the cleanup, for example, or when the states encounter a
                         complex, and, therefore, costly cleanup, such as one addressing
                         groundwater problems.

                         Recognizing the changing role of states and the resulting need for EPA and
                         the states to better coordinate cleanups, we recommended that EPA review
                         its inventory of potential NPL sites to determine which of them need
                         immediate action and which will require long-term cleanup action. We
                         further recommended that EPA, in consultation with the states, develop a
                         timetable for taking these actions. Finally, we recommended that EPA
                         regions work with the states to determine how to share information on the
                         progress of state cleanups at high-risk sites. In this way, EPA regions can
                         better plan their cleanup workload and be more responsive to local
                         communities’ concerns about sites in their areas. EPA agreed with these
                         recommendations and has initiated activities in response.


                         Reforming the stringent liability provisions governing Superfund cleanups
Federal Efforts Have     has been a key issue in the reauthorization debate, especially because
Removed Some             these provisions can make it difficult for communities to clean up and
Barriers to Brownfield   redevelop brownfields. To some extent, the provisions serve as an
                         incentive for parties to clean up sites, especially under state programs.
Redevelopment Posed      Parties don’t want to face what they perceive to be a longer and more
by Superfund             costly cleanup under CERCLA, so they initiate cleanups either in compliance
                         with a state enforcement action or under state voluntary programs. But
                         states reported that these liability provisions can also be a barrier to the
                         cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields, especially since these sites are
                         typically less contaminated than sites that qualify for Superfund. Investors



                         Page 12                                                       GAO/T-RCED-99-202
are wary of purchasing properties and owners of selling them because
these parties could be held liable for cleanup costs.8 In addition, the
substantial expenditure parties may need to make to establish whether any
contamination is present at a brownfield can also discourage
redevelopment. Site assessments can cost on average $60,000 to $85,000
and as much as $200,000 or more for complicated sites.

To help remove these liability and cost barriers, we found that states want
to be able to relieve parties that clean up sites under state programs from
further CERCLA liability. States would also like federal financial assistance
to help pay for site assessment and cleanup costs and to support their
voluntary programs. In response, the Congress and EPA have provided
limited liability relief to some parties and hundreds of millions of dollars in
financial support, but states do not think the assistance goes far enough.

In terms of liability, the Congress passed a law providing lenders
protection from liability as a means to encourage investments in
brownfields.9 In addition, prospective purchasers can now reach
agreements with EPA that limit their liability at a site, although the costs of
obtaining such an agreement may be too high for some brownfield sites,
according to EPA’s brownfield program manager. However, states continue
to seek authority to relieve volunteers from further liability under CERCLA.
So far, EPA, the states, and other stakeholders have not been able to agree
on criteria that state voluntary cleanup programs should meet in exchange
for a memorandum of agreement with EPA. Such an agreement tells
volunteers that if they successfully complete a cleanup under the state’s
program, EPA most likely would not have any further interest in the site.
We know from our work that state voluntary programs vary considerably
in the extent to which they would meet draft criteria that EPA proposed.10
For example, some programs, partly as a means to achieve faster and
cheaper cleanups, relaxed requirements for community involvement,
cleanup oversight, and long-term monitoring of cleanups that did not
permanently remove contamination. EPA argues that even though it is
authorized to take enforcement action at voluntary cleanup sites, to date,
it has not done so; therefore, parties should not be concerned about
federal Superfund liability when undertaking cleanups under state


8
 Superfund: Proposals to Remove Barriers to Brownfield Redevelopment (GAO/T-RCED-97-87, Mar. 4,
1997). Superfund: Barriers to Brownfield Redevelopment (GAO/RCED-96-125, June 17, 1996).
9
 The Asset Conservation, Lender Liability, and Deposit Insurance Protection Act of 1996, contained in
the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 1997 (P.L. 104-208).
10
 Superfund: State Voluntary Programs Provide Incentives to Encourage Cleanups (GAO/RCED-97-66,
Apr. 9, 1997).



Page 13                                                                        GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                                         programs. Furthermore, EPA maintains that parties should not fear being
                                         held further liable for cleanups if they complete thorough cleanups under
                                         state programs. However, states argue that this is not sufficient protection
                                         and that the parties in their voluntary programs want full release from
                                         federal liability.

                                         In terms of financial assistance, we found that federal agencies have
                                         provided considerable assistance to support voluntary programs and
                                         brownfield cleanup and redevelopment.11 Agencies—primarily EPA, the
                                         Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the
                                         Economic Development Administration (EDA) within the Department of
                                         Commerce—could track that they provided overall about $413 million in
                                         assistance to voluntary programs and brownfields during fiscal years 1997
                                         and 1998, the time span of the Brownfield National Partnership Action
                                         Agenda, compared to their plan to provide $469 million under this
                                         Partnership, as table 1 shows.

Table 1: A Comparison of Agencies’
Planned Assistance in the Partnership    Dollars in millions
Agenda and Reported Assistance                                                Planned assistance for             Reported assistance
Provided for Brownfields During Fiscal                                       brownfields as stated in              agencies provided
Years 1997 and 1998                      Federal agency                      the Partnership Agenda                   for brownfields
                                         EPA                                                       $125                             $128
                                         HUD                                                         155                                 26
                                         EDA                                                          17                             114
                                         Other federal agenciesa                                       7                                  4
                                         Subtotal                                                  $304                             $272
                                         HUD’s loan guaranteesb                                    $165                             $141
                                         Total                                                     $469                             $413
                                         a
                                          The other federal agencies are the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and
                                         Atmospheric Administration; the departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and
                                         Transportation; and the General Services Administration.
                                         b
                                          Under HUD’s Section 108 loan guarantee program, the agency may guarantee loans to local
                                         governments to conduct large-scale economic revitalization projects. Local governments must
                                         pledge the other HUD grants they have received, such as community development block grants,
                                         as security when obtaining the loans.

                                         Sources: Agencies’ documentation supporting the Partnership Agenda and their brownfield
                                         managers.




                                         11
                                          Environmental Protection: Agencies Have Made Progress in Implementing the Federal Brownfield
                                         Partnership Initiative (GAO/RCED-99-86, Apr. 9, 1999).



                                         Page 14                                                                   GAO/T-RCED-99-202
                  As a result of this federal financial assistance, agencies reported that they
                  are better coordinating their actions to address brownfields, are more
                  aware of each other’s brownfield resources, and can better direct
                  communities to the right agency, depending on the type of assistance the
                  communities need. The most evident example of improved coordination is
                  through the Showcase Communities project where agencies are providing
                  16 select communities with federal funding and technical support for
                  brownfield redevelopment. City managers and professional associations
                  representing state and local governments we talked with said that they are
                  more aware of available federal resources and how to access them now.
                  However, they also noted that little has been done to reduce the
                  burdensome administrative processes involved in obtaining federal
                  financial assistance. While coordination has improved, the extent to which
                  this federal financial assistance will result in the long-term economic
                  outcomes set out for the Partnership—increased jobs, private investment
                  in brownfields, and acres of green space protected from
                  development—cannot be determined because federal agencies generally
                  do not have the comprehensive data necessary to measure these
                  outcomes.




                  For future contacts regarding this testimony, please contact David G.
Contact and       Wood at (202) 512-6111. Individuals making key contributions to this
Acknowledgement   testimony included Eileen R. Larence and Vincent P. Price.




(160492)          Page 15                                                     GAO/T-RCED-99-202
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