EPA asks Congress to reinstate chemical waste Superfund tax

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 22 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency has asked Congress to reinstate the chemical waste Superfund tax, which expired at the end of 1995. Cleanups of abandoned hazardous waste sites since then have been financed by general federal revenue, effectively burdening taxpayers with the cost, the agency said in a June 21 letter.

”Since the beginning of this administration we have made it clear that we support the reinstatement of the ‘polluter pays’ system for the Superfund program,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Solid Waste and Emergency Response Office. “Our taxes should be paying for teachers, police officers, and infrastructure that is essential for sustainable growth—not footing the bill for polluters.”

Stanislaus said the Obama administration is proposing reimposition of the taxes as they were last in effect on crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and imported substances that use hazardous chemicals as a feedstock, and on corporate modified alternative minimum taxable income. The excise taxes and corporate environmental taxes would be reinstated for 10 years beginning in January 2011, he said.

American Chemistry Council Pres. Cal Dooley immediately disputed EPA’s reasoning, saying that reimposing the tax would be a mistake. “America’s chemical makers and others targeted by the Superfund tax have paid for site remediation several times over: We paid for sites for which we were responsible, we helped pay for ‘orphan’ sites where we were not the responsible party, and we paid taxes such as the corporate environmental income tax,” he said. “It would be inappropriate and unfair to impose Superfund taxes on companies with no responsibility for site contamination.”

“All elected officials who say they want to create jobs and strengthen America’s manufacturing sector should be against this job-killing tax and stop trying to use the domestic refining and petrochemical industry as an [automated teller machine] to provide cash-on-demand,” said National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Pres. Charles T. Drevna. “This tax amounts to economic sanctions against the US petrochemical and refining industry, because it will punish these American manufacturers and give foreign competitors an unfair advantage.”

But US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has introduced a bill to reimpose the tax, said it would be “a win for the environment, a win for local communities, and a win for the economy.” He said federal funding for the cleanup has slowed to a trickle and the more than 1,600 remaining Superfund sites across the country are not getting cleaned up.

“By renewing the tax, the industries that had a hand in creating the problem—not taxpayers—will once again be held accountable for cleaning it up,” Blumenauer said, adding, “More importantly, we can put tens of thousands of people to work by investing in the restoration of these polluted sites.”

Stainslaus was scheduled to testify June 22 before the Senate Environment and Public Committee’s Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health Subcommittee about the Superfund program. Other scheduled witnesses included John Stephenson, natural resources and environment director at the Government Accountability Office; Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice; J. Winston Porter, president of the Waste Policy Center; John Stumbo, mayor of Fort Valley, Ga.; and Helene Pierson, executive director of Heart of Camden (NJ). 

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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