The Superfund could better be labeled the Superfunk these days. Legislation renewing and enlarging the major federal program to clean up toxic dumps around the country languishes in muggy Washington. Congressional conferees meander through the whereases, reconciling conflicting House and Senate bills with little sense of urgency. The Reagan Administration threatens to veto whatever emerges if the measure involves anything that resembles a tax increase. And the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't started any long-term cleanup operations since last August because it doesn't know how much money it will get in the bill and what rules it must live by.
Since last we tuned in on this miasmic performance, this much at least has occurred: The conferees have agreed to authorize $8.5 billion over five years, which means that whenever cleanup operations do resume, there'll be more than five times as much money as in the original legislation. The conferees have also agreed on good standards that provide strong incentives to seek permanent cleanup rather than mere containment of buried chemicals and minerals. But they have also agreed to a dismal cleanup schedule that would not move against these abandoned dumps with anything like the required urgency.
Still to be decided in the Superfund negotiations are how much polluters who want to settle their liability will have to pay and how much communities are entitled to know about emissions from nearby chemical factories. The House bill is tougher on the liability question, and the Senate measure is firmer about what companies must release information; the tougher provisions should prevail.