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US House passed bill ravaging toxic-waste law – on same day as W. Virginia chemical spill

As West Virginians were learning Thursday of a devastating chemical spill in the Elk River that has rendered water undrinkable for 300,000 people, the US House of Representatives was busy gutting federal hazardous-waste cleanup law.

The House passed the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act  that would ultimately eliminate requirements for the  Environmental Protection Agency to review and update  hazardous-waste disposal regulations in a timely manner, and make  it more difficult for the government to compel companies that  deal with toxic substances to carry proper insurance for  cleanups, pushing the cost on to taxpayers.

In addition, the bill would result in slower response time in the  case of a disaster, requiring increased consultation with states  before the federal government calls for cleanup of Superfund  sites – where hazardous waste could affect people and the  environment.

The bill amends both the Solid Waste Disposal Act and the  Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability  Act – often referred to as Superfund, which was created in 1980  to hold polluter industries accountable for funding the cleanup  of hazardous-waste sites.

There are over 1,300 priority Superfund sites in the US.

The legislation was passed by a vote of 225 to 188, mostly along  party lines, with all but four Republicans supporting the bill  and all but five Democrats opposing it. One of those Democrats  crossing party lines to support the changes to environmental law  was Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), touted the   “common-sense” changes as needed economic relief.

“We are five years into this failed experiment of increased  government spending, taxation, and regulation,” Gardner said  in a statement. “The results are clear: The power to grow our  economy and put Americans back to work lies in the private  sector. With more than 80,000 pages of new federal regulations  published in 2013 alone, common-sense revisions of existing rules  and regulations are a vital part of ensuring businesses that  power our state and local economies are given the capability to  grow.”

Critics point out that the bill severely weakens environmental  protections. Earthjustice and 128 public interest groups said the  legislation would “threaten human health and the environment  while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic  cleanups.”

The legislation also “substantially increases the potential  for harm in communities across the United States. As one in four  Americans live within three miles of a hazardous-waste site, safe  management and prompt cleanup of toxic waste sites are essential  to our nation’s health and economy,” the group added.

The bill is a “New Year’s gift to corporate interests,”   said Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural  Resources Defense Council, in a statement, adding that taxpayers  will be the one to assume cleanup costs.

Opponents will probably find salvation in the US Senate, which is  unlikely to pass the bill. In addition, the White House has  promised to veto the legislation.

“The bill’s requirements could result in significant site  cleanup delays, endangering public health and the  environment,” White House policy advisers wrote in a  statement.

In West Virginia, federal authorities opened  an investigation into what caused the leak that poisoned the  river and shut down much of the state’s capital, Charleston and  surrounding counties. US Attorney Booth Goodwin said authorities  will take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence  found, reports the Associated Press.

In response to the crisis, the West Virginia Department of  Environmental Protection’s Division of Water and Waste Management  ordered Freedom Industries to cease operations Friday afternoon.  The state also ordered the company to remove chemicals from the  facility where the leak contaminated the area’s water supply, the  AP reported.

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