The Shortcut That Failed
By Richard L. Stroup
Superfund, the federal program to clean up hazardous waste sites, was supposed to be swift and short-lived. Congress authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up waste sites immediately and then bill the responsible parties. It was supposed to deal rapidly with emergencies by cutting through red tape. But it failed.
Congress replaced common-law concepts with nearly unchecked bureaucratic control. Congress allowed the EPA to decide liability and prescribe remedies without requiring evidence that any harm had occurred or that the parties it accused had actually caused the harm.
But taking away these fundamental rights has not led to an effective program. Superfund is criticized more heavily than government programs. It is mired in litigation and bureaucratic inertia. Superfund hurts both those accused of causing harm and those whose lives are disrupted by the EPA's highly exaggerated claims of danger.
As Congress considers reauthorization of Superfund, it should learn the lessons from the past, says Stroup. Congress should scrap the Superfund law, says Stroup, and return to reliance on common law for dealing with hazardous waste harms.
If that is not politically feasible, says Stroup, Congress should drastically revise the law to bring back the principles of due process and curb the tendency of the EPA to create mountains of fear out of molehills of pollution.