Information on the Program's Funding and Status Gao ID: RCED-00-25 October 29, 1999

After nearly 20 years and outlays of more than $14 billion, the Superfund program has yet to complete cleanups for 42 percent of the nation's most severely contaminated hazardous waste sites. The Superfund trust fund has been financed primarily by a tax on crude oil and some chemicals, together with an environmental tax on corporations. This report discusses (1) the status of the program's funding and expenditures, including information on the Superfund trust fund so far and the money appropriated from it to federal agencies other than the Environmental Protection Agency for Superfund activities; (2) the costs to responsible parties for all site cleanups and these parties' related transaction costs from 1980 through 1998, categorized before and after December 1995, when the authority for Superfund taxes expired; and (3) the cleanup status of the 640 nonfederal sites on the National Priorities List as of April 1999 and the estimated total and annual costs to finish cleaning them up.

GAO noted that: (1) taxes paid into the Superfund trust fund totalled about $13.5 billion from 1981 through 1998, and the unappropriated balance in the Superfund trust fund was estimated to be $1.4 billion at the end of fiscal year (FY) 1999; (2) a total of $940 million in program funds was also deobligated for use on other Superfund projects for FY 1994 through FY 1999, but this total is not included in the unappropriated trust fund balance; (3) expenditures from the trust fund totalled $14.7 billion from FY 1987 through FY 1998, the most recent year for which these data are available; (4) from 1996 through 1998, approximately 45 percent of all expenditures were for contractor cleanup costs; 17 percent were for on site-specific cleanup support costs, such as supervising cleanup contractors; and 38 percent were for non-site-specific cleanup support costs, such as financial management and policy development activities; (5) during the FY 1995 through FY 1998, about 10 percent of the funds appropriated annually for the Superfund program were appropriated from the trust fund, transferred or allocated to federal agencies other than EPA; (6) from 1980 through 1998, responsible parties' total costs for cleanup activities at National Priorities List sites was an estimated $15.5 billion; (7) about 17 percent of these costs occurred after the authority for Superfund taxes expired in December 1995; (8) the total estimated transaction costs from 1980 through 1998 incurred by responsible parties ranged from $3.2 billion to $7.6 billion, according to several studies of these costs; (9) of the 640 nonfederal sites on the National Priorities List, 376 were in the remedial investigation and feasibility study phase, 133 were in the remedial design phase, and 131 were in the remedial action phase as of mid-April 1999; (10) GAO estimated that cleanups will be completed at 85 percent of the sites by the end of calendar year 2008; (11) the remainder will not be completed until well after 2008; (12) GAO estimated, in total, it will cost between $8.2 billion and $11.7 billion more than already expended to clean up the 640 nonfederal sites; (13) GAO's estimate is based on EPA's estimated cleanup costs and includes contractor cleanup costs, site-specific support costs, non-site-specific support costs, and operation and maintenance costs, including costs to maintain long-term remedies, such as pumping and treating groundwater; and (14) GAO also estimated that if EPA is to finish cleaning up 85 percent of the 640 sites by the end of FY 2008, its costs will average $875 million annually through 2008.

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