Pensacola Activists Take Environmental Concerns to Capitol Hill

    Efforts to clean up contaminated industrial sites in and around Pensacola are threatened by Republican legislation that would cut funding for federal environmental programs and rewrite government pollution regulations, two local activists said Monday after participating in a Capitol Hill protest.

    Margaret Williams and Frances Dunham, both officers with Pensacola's Citizens Against Toxic Exposure, joined about two-dozen environmentalists from 17 states in a street-corner demonstration against proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund toxic cleanup program.

    "A clean environment is as important as a balanced budget to the future of this country," Williams told the small group of protesters. "Some members of Congress have failed to recognize this."

    With some of their members wearing gas masks and carrying hand-lettered signs, the concerned citizens were dispersed by a police officer who informed them they must obtain a permit to demonstrate.

    The small act of defiance went relatively unnoticed because most members of Congress had left the Hill for a 10-day recess and the day's best news story was inside a nearby House office building where Republicans and Democrats took pains to disagree with one another over GOP Medicare overhaul plans.

    Williams, Dunham and others participating in the event are members of the Communities at Risk Network, a coalition of community groups fighting to clean up toxic dumps across the country.

    In town since Friday, they met with a series of government officials, including EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

    A key concern is a proposal put forth by Rep. Michael Oxley, R-ohio, that would rewrite the ground rules for the Superfund program - which was originally designed to help communities rid themselves of dangerous post-industrial toxic waste.

    The EPA-administered program has been a routine target of Republican critics who say it is a prime example of ineffective bureaucracy and unnecessary government intrusion.

    The two Pensacola environmentalists believe Oxley's bill would undercut efforts to resolve disputes over two local Superfund sites - the former Escambia Treating Company property and Agrico Chemical Company land.

    Although some EPA-directed cleanup has occurred at those two sites, Williams and Dunham believe more needs to be done to protect nearby residents of Rosewood Terrace, Oak Park, Goulding and the Escambia Arms public housing development.

    "I don't know who has a more pressing problem than this," Dunham said.

    Oxley unveiled his Superfund reform bill last week and some of its features drew immediate fire from environmental groups.

    Among their concerns:

    - Some companies could receive government reimbursement for cleanup expenses.

    - Some small businesses would not be held liable for pollution at some 250 municipal landfills where more than one party dumped hazardous waste.

    - It would repeal to some extent the "retroactive liability" aspect of the Superfund law.  Currently a business can be held responsible for cleanup costs of wastes it dumped legally before the 1980 Superfund law went into effect.

    In other legislation, Congress is working on spending priorities that would dramatically reduce funds available for a broad cross-section of EPA pollution programs, including Superfund.

    American Creosote Works in Pensacola is one of 14 Florida Superfund sites facing a freeze on cleanup plans if the Republican budget numbers pass, EPA officers warned last week when they released a state-by-state analysis.

    Concerned the Republican majority may not be listening to voices such as hers, Williams worried changes to the Superfund program will have a profound impact.

    "People are going to be made to suffer more than they have been and the Superfund program will not be doing what it was designed to do, protect the health and environment," she said.

Copyright 1995 Gannett Company, Inc.
October 2, 1995, Monday
BYLINE: LARRY WHEELER; Gannett News Service
LOAD-DATE: October 5, 1995