Small Business Bill Fails in House

Small Business Bill Fails in House

Legislation that would have allowed small businesses to avoid liability under the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program failed in the House Tuesday.

The bill, which needed a two-thirds majority, fell 23 vots short on a 253-161 roll call.

It would have exempted from lawsuits families or small businesses with 100 or fewer employees and $3 million or less in gross revenues, if the amount of hazardous materials disposed of is not greater than 110 gallons or 200 pounds.

Business leaders quickly blamed the Clinton administration for refusing to support the bill.

“For years, the EPA talked a good game about helping innocent small businesses but when it was time to walk the walk, the administration did nothing but drag its feet,” said Dan Danner, senior vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business. “It's a total betrayal of small business.”

Under the bill, small businesses would also have been exempted from Superfund liability if it had disposed only municipal solid waste, such as household garbage.

The exemption would not have covered commercial trash operations. The bill also would have directed the president to expedite settlements for parties that contribute less than 1 percent of the total amount of hazardous materials at a Superfund site.

The Superfund program aims to force businesses to pay to clean up toxic sites they created or contributed to. It has been criticized for spawning costly and lengthy lawsuits that have crippled some smaller companies, but Congress has made little headway in years of efforts to reform the program.

The legislation, said sponsor Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, would “provide long overdue liability relief to individuals, families and small business owners unfairly trapped in the litigation nightmare of the Superfund program for over two decades.”

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., another sponsor, said it was “absolutely scandalous” that people had been targeted under Superfund for dumping mashed potatoes or pizza boxes.

But the legislation was opposed by many Democrats who said that, while they supported exemptions for small businesses, the bill had been brought to the House floor at the end of the congressional session without hearings or discussions with the administration.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., added that “it creates incentives for businesses or entities to destroy or lose records or to engage in other rascality to achieve a preference at the expense of all of the American people.”

The League of Conservation Voters, in a letter to members of Congress, also urged opposition to the bill, noting that “the bill's failure to ensure that a business's parent corporation, affiliate or subsidiary is liable for cleanup costs, may enable businesses to escape responsiblity for their pollution.”

Boehlert said Wednesday he had made changes in the bill to answer the League's concerns about big corporations escaping liability. He said he hoped to get another vote this year under normal procedures requiring only a majority vote, but acknowledged it would be difficult in the politically charged last days of the session when "everyone is maneuvering for partisan advantage."

Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, but it is unclear whether the Senate will take up the issue this year.

The House bill is H.R. 5175.

The Senate bill is S. 2634.

----------------

RELATED LINK:

GreenBiz Essentials: Brownfields