A plea by Utah health officials for the state to form its own scaled-down version of the federal "Superfund" to clean up hazardous waste sites makes a lot of sense. But where is the money to come from?
Some people are bound to ask: If the federal government has a cleanup program, why does the state need one as well?The answer to that is easy. The federal problem is so large that doing something about even a handful of sites in Utah would take many years. The federal Superfund has 2,000 sites targeted, and another 30,000 being considered. Utah has 11 sites on the federal list. Yet more than 180 others are scattered around the state and need to be cleaned up, too.
Economic development is sometimes postponed or canceled because the hazardous waste sites cannot be used for anything else until the wastes are removed.
Current laws and regulations keep existing companies from creating hazardous waste dumps, but they are of little help in getting rid of abandoned dumps left behind - often many years ago - by defunct firms.
Such cleanup is one of those government "services" that Utah ought to be providing. The state is in a minority in not having such a program. Thirty-five other states, including five in the West, have their own cleanup programs to augment the federal effort.
However, faced with a tax revolt and a possible drastic cutback in state and local budgets, any Utah cleanup of hazardous waste sites will face an uphill struggle for funding.
But that's no reason to give up. All 180 sites would not have to be taken care of immediately. The problem did not arise overnight and can be tackled over a period of time. There should be a program to put the hazardous sites on a priority list and at least begin to clean them up, one at a time.
It's a job that needs to be done, both for the state's economy and the health and safety of its citizens.