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A leading environmental group complained Tuesday about a federal policy that would have fewer waste cleanups begin in fiscal 1991, despite a $209.8 million increase in the Superfund budget.

Steve Lester, science director for the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, said he is opposed to the policy.

"The system should be continuous and not allowed to break down," he said. "Delaying the program risks the health of the victims of hazardous waste."

An official of the federal Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that even though the Superfund allocation would increase under President Bush's proposed 1991 budget, the number of new cleanups begun that year would decrease.

The delay would affect only projects on Superfund's National Priority List that have not yet been subject to remedial investigations. Thus, it would not affect the six National Priorities List sites in Western New York, which are further along in the Superfund process.

The authorization expires again at the end of fiscal 1991. The EPA said it wants to limit the number of new cleanups it begins that year to minimize the number of continuing cleanups when the authorization expires.

Lester said he does not agree with the EPA's contention that projects started in 1991 could end up partly completed.

"There's little question that Superfund will be reauthorized," he said.

Because it started fewer cleanups than anticipated under the old Superfund allocation, the EPA could argue that it needs more money under a reauthorization.

"I think it's very definitely political," said Lester.

Thaddeus J. Juszczak Jr., director of the resource management staff at the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, blamed tight funding for the delays in the Superfund program.

"Basically, we're running out of money," he said. "The authorization for Superfund was $8.5 billion, but only a little more than $7 billion of that has been allocated. The money just hasn't materialized."

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