Iowans split on party lines over bill to weaken hazardous waste laws

Talk about lousy timing: just before a chemical spill made tap water unusable for 300,000 West Virginians, the U.S. House approved a bill that would “weaken the nation’s hazardous waste laws and place American communities at increased risk of toxic exposure.” The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 2279) includes three bills House Republicans drafted last year. In a letter signed by 129 public interest groups, Earth Justice listed the key points of each bill and explained why the package would “threaten human health and the environment while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic cleanups.” I’ve posted an excerpt from that open letter after the jump. In a post for the Earth Justice blog last week, Lisa Evans called this bill “Kryptonite for Superfund” and “a con job of the highest order, allowing polluters to walk away without losing a penny, while taxpayers are left footing the bill.”

Under its current leadership, the House has been called “the most anti-environmental House in our nation’s history” because of the many bills passed that would curtail federal regulations and take power away from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Occasionally Iowa’s two House Democrats have gone along with those efforts, but I was pleased to see that on January 9, Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the latest effort to hamstring the EPA and for the Democratic motion to recommit this bill with instructions (often a last-ditch effort to kill legislation in the House). Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) lived up to their abysmal voting records on the environment by voting for the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act and against the motion to recommit.

Excerpt from a letter to U.S. House members from Earth Justice, signed by 129 public interest groups:

Title I- Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 2279)

Title I will:

• Eliminate the requirement for EPA to ensure in a timely fashion that its hazardous waste regulations

are current, relevant and effective to protect human health and the environment. The bill removes a requirement for periodic review of regulations under RCRA, making the timing of review wholly discretionary.

• Eviscerate the longstanding principle of the Superfund law that polluters must pay for cleanup of hazardous waste releases by allowing insufficient existing requirements to block Superfund obligations, thereby leaving communities unprotected and taxpayers at risk of funding expensive cleanups.

• Fail to ensure full liability for toxic waste cleanup, thus endangering the health of communities, causing significant delays in remediation, and placing a great burden on taxpayers to cover the shortfall, which is often substantial, particularly at hardrock mine sites and large chemical facilities.

• Place burdensome and unnecessary roadblocks to delay establishment of financial assurance requirements to ensure polluters have bonds or other insurance in place to cover the nation’s most costly and high risk Superfund cleanups.

Title II- The Federal and State Partnership for Environmental Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 2226):

Title II will:

• Cause delays in emergency Superfund cleanups by requiring unnecessary consultation prior to

initiating urgent, time-sensitive removal actions.

• Allow states to reduce their cost share for cleanup, thereby decreasing the funds available for

additional cleanup efforts.

• Establish roadblocks to listing new toxic waste sites on the National Priority List (NPL) by giving

states the power to veto such listings. The NPL is the list of the most dangerous toxic waste sites in the nation, and the listing of a site is often a prerequisite to its cleanup.

Title III- Federal Facility Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R.2318)

Title III will:

• Potentially increase costs and delay cleanups at hazardous waste sites owned by federal facilities,

some of the largest and most dangerous Superfund sites in the nation.

In summary, we oppose amendments to RCRA and CERCLA contained in H.R.2279 because these three bills place the health of our communities and our environment in great danger and increase the cost of hazardous waste cleanup for U.S. taxpayers.

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