WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency will have to stop cleaning up all but the most dangerous toxic waste sites around the country starting Tuesday because it has no 1996 budget, officials said Friday.
"We're very concerned about the one-quarter of Americans who live within four miles of a Superfund site," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said.
The nation's 1,300 Superfund sites are the largest hazardous waste locations across the country.
Although the agency has enough money in its Superfund trust to pay for cleanups for another 18 months, the money cannot be used until Congress and the White House agree on the EPA's budget for fiscal 1996, which began Oct. 1, 1995.
On Dec. 18, President Clinton vetoed the EPA budget that Congress sent him because it cut deeply into the agency's programs, especially enforcement. Congress approved $1.16 billion in Superfund spending, a 13% drop from 1995 and $400 million less than the administration had requested.
Unless Congress and the White House agree on a budget before Monday, U.S. corporate environmental taxes and oil and chemical taxes that fund toxic waste cleanups will expire, another hurdle for the program. The taxes put about $1.5 billion a year into the Superfund.
After Tuesday the agency would continue work only at sites where it had to prevent an "imminent threat" to public health or the environment, Browner said.
Environmental engineering firms, which have about 10,000 people working at Superfund sites, said they would have to start temporarily laying off people.