NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Outperform The EPA In Cleaning Up Hazardous Waste

November 29, 1999

Nearly three decades of federal control of environmental policy began with the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. The dominant role of the EPA in environmental policy is based on several myths, says environmental expert Bonner Cohen:

It is a myth, says Cohen:

  • That prior to 1970, state and local environmental agencies did little to protect the environment;
  • That dramatic improvements in air and water quality over the last three decades are primarily due to EPA administered federal statutes;
  • And that returning primary responsibility for environmental policy to state and local governments would lead to environmental degradation.

In reality, says Cohen, state environmental agencies are doing a far better job of solving real environmental problems than are federal regulators.

For instance, both air and water quality were improving at a faster pace prior to 1970 than they have since EPA air and water quality programs were instituted. In addition, when it comes to cleaning up contaminated properties at reasonable costs, states have completely outperformed the federal government.

In the 19 years since the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act -- better known as Superfund -- was created, less than 250 of the more than 1,200 federal sites have been cleaned and returned to productive use. The average Superfund cleanup costs $25 million to $30 million, and takes more than ten years to complete.

By comparison:

  • Minnesota cleans up sites for less than $5 million each, with work completed in three to five years.
  • Since 1995 when Pennsylvania implemented its hazardous waste cleanup program, cleanups have been initiated at over 300 sites, with over 100 already completed.
  • Illinois developed its hazardous waste cleanup program in 1993 having already cleaned up 225 of the more than 700 properties enrolled in the program.

Source: Bonner Cohen, "Outperforming EPA: How States are Taking the Lead in Cleaning Up Contaminated Sites," What Works? VI, September 1999, Lexington Institute, 1655 North Fort Meyer Drive, Suite 325, Arlington, Va. 22209, (703) 522-5828.


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