March 12, 2004
BACKGROUND: The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a
Ralph Nader organization, is charging that a March 11 Senate
vote defeating a "polluters pay" Superfund amendment
offered by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) means that polluters are getting a "holiday"
from their legal responsibilities.
In a March 11 press statement, U.S. PIRG
Environmental Health Advocate Julie Wolk said: "By refusing
to reinstate Superfund's polluter pays fees, the Senate voted
to extend a 4 million dollar per day tax holiday for polluters
and continue charging regular taxpayers for toxic waste site
cleanups. Since Superfund's trust fund went bankrupt, toxic waste
cleanup competes with every other government program for scarce
taxpayer money... The Bush Administration continues to let polluting
industries off the hook and leave regular taxpayers to pay the
cleanup costs, allowing toxic waste sites to languish in communities
around the country."1
TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The "polluter pays" proposal is simply
an excise tax on law-abiding chemical and oil companies that
would have been passed on to consumers, who tend to be taxpayers.
THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Under current law and practice, polluters already
clean polluted sites whenever the federal government can identify
the responsible parties. The "polluter pays" tax would
simply force law-abiding companies who practice sound environmental
practices (and their customers) to assume responsibility for
the actions of others.
The "polluter pays" proposal is as much about politics
as it is about pollution -- perhaps more so.
As Environment and Energy Daily
reported on March 26, 2003 about the "polluter pays"amendment:
A Democratic aide said the amendment's
sponsors knew the amendment would fail, but pushed for a vote
anyway, in hopes of turning the issue into a political lightning
rod during the 2004 election cycle by being able to say that
those who voted against the amendment voted against the notion
of 'polluters pay.' Sources said Democrats have been polling
voters and planning outreach efforts toward that end. Democratic
leaders not only see symbolic value to the fight fight over who
pays for Superfund cleanups; if they are someday able to shift
the costs back to corporations, it could shift the Superfund
program off the general budget, freeing up dollars for social
programs favored by liberals.2
Will Hart of the Senate Environment and
Public Works had this comment March 11:
The "polluter" already pays!
When there is an identifiable and viable "polluter,"
consistent with the law, those companies are held liable for
cleaning up or paying for the cleanup of that site. In fact,
the Environmental Protection Agency's focus on making sure that
the polluter does in fact pay resulted in 87% of new cleanups
borne by Potentially Responsible Parties in 2003 -- exceeding
the Agency's historical 70%. Federal Government spending on the
Superfund program is directed at cleaning up "orphan"
sites, those sites where there is NOT an identifiable and viable
Advocates of reinstatement of the Superfund
tax will likely also bombastically decry "cuts" in
the Superfund budget as another reason to implement the tax.
Their reasoning on this point is mythical as well and based on
an inaccurate GAO report which fails to reflect that Congress
continues to provide level funds to ATSDR, NIEHS, and Brownfields,
but from separate appropriations. For fiscal year 2005, the President
requested $1.4 billion for the Superfund, a $124 million, or
10%, increase over the 2004 Consolidated Appropriations level.
This increase reflects a 48 % boost targeted for the Superfund's
remedial program, which will allow 8-12 additional construction
starts in 2005 and a similar number of additional completions
...In a time of already drastically increasing
fuel and energy costs amid a rebounding economy, one wonders
why Democrats would even consider heaping on top these kinds
of additional costs which get passed on directly to the American
consumers through higher prices at the gas pump.
If members of Congress are sincere in
their support for the Superfund program, they should support
the President's budget request, not levy a burdensome tax increase
on businesses and consumers that would hurt or economy and create
job loses for potentially thousands of hardworking American citizens.
Reinstating this tax at the same time complaining about U.S.
job losses is exactly the same type of Democrat double talk we
are getting more and more accustomed to. On one hand they claim
to promote U.S. jobs, but then try to push through unfair taxes
that only hamstring struggling businesses.3
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
EPA Superfund Website at http://www.epa.gov/superfund/
Angela Logomasini, "EPA Uses Superfund
Tax to Target the Innocent ," Competitive Enterprise Institute,
9/5/03, at http://www.cei.org/gencon/019,03653.cfm
Fails to Make Polluters Pay for Toxic Waste Site Cleanups,"
Press Release, U.S. Public Research Group, March 11, 2004, available
online at http://www.ems.org/rls/2004/03/11/senate_fails_to_.html
by Amy Ridenour
Contact the author at: 202-507-6398 or [email protected]
The National Center for Public
20 F Street NW, Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20001
(1) "Senate Fails to Make
Polluters Pay for Toxic Waste Site Cleanups," Press Release,
U.S. Public Research Group, March 11, 2004, available online
(2) J.L. Laws, Environment and Energy Daily, "Senate Republicans
Defeat Superfund Tax Measure ," February 1, 2001
(3) E-Mail Communication from Will Hart of the Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee staff, March 11, 2004