In this time of government cutbacks, balancing budgets- I get so frustrated at the amount of wasted money we taxpayers pay. The amount of taxes we pay for litter and toxic clean up is incredible. I ran across this article from U.S. PIRG,( Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being.
To address the public health threats created by toxic waste sites, Congress established the nation’s premier toxic cleanup program, the Superfund, in 1980. Congress designed a funding structure for Superfund that placed the financial burden of cleaning up toxic contamination on the polluters by collecting three established fees from polluting industries. Collectively, the three fees, known as the Superfund “polluter pays” fees, relieved regular taxpayers from paying for toxic cleanups by compelling polluting industries to take financial responsibility for cleaning up toxic waste sites.
In 1995, Superfund’s polluter pays fees expired. Since then, the financial burden to clean up toxic waste has shifted entirely from polluters to regular taxpayers. Taxpayers now pay for all Superfund-led toxic cleanups, spending well over $1 billion annually to protect public health from the irresponsible business practices of polluting industries. As valuable public dollars are spent on these cleanups (see table below), polluting industries are enjoying a $4 million per day tax break courtesy of the American taxpayer. In order to shift the financial burden of toxic waste cleanups from taxpayers back on to polluters, Congress must act the reinstate Superfund’s polluter pays fees.
Cost to Taxpayers to Finance Superfund Cleanups in the Absence of Polluter Pays Fees*
|State||Superfund Sites||Superfund Cost to Taxpayers: 1995||Superfund Cost to Taxpayers: 2004||Superfund Cost to Taxpayers: 2005||Superfund Cost to Taxpayers: 2006||Total Costs: 2004-2006|
|District of Columbia||1||$2,621,263||$10,696,444||$10,952,339||$11,192,387||$32,841,170|
*Methodology for Generating Taxpayer Data
The above data table breaks down the amount of taxpayer dollars from each state going to clean up toxic waste sites. The cost to state taxpayers was derived by multiplying the percentage a state pays into the U.S. Treasury in income taxes (IRS 2004) by the amount of money appropriated from general revenues into the Superfund program in the given fiscal year. For example, in 1995, when adjusted to 2004 dollars, the Superfund program received $310 million from general revenues. Wisconsin’s contribution to the U.S. Treasury accounted for 1.7% of total income taxes. Thus the cost of the Superfund program for Wisconsin taxpayers in 1995 was $5,374,065. This formula was repeated for each state and the District of Columbia. The numbers incorporate the most recent available tax data from 2004 filings, and assume that the percentage of income tax paid by each state was the same in 2004 as in 1995.
Polluter Pays Fees
Reinstating Superfund’s polluter pays fees will shift the financial burden for cleaning up toxic pollution from American taxpayers back on to the industries associated with contamination at the nation’s worst toxic waste sites. The three polluter pays fees, now expired, include:
• Crude Oil Tax: The oil industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Each year, at least 14,000 oil spills occur in the United States. Congress originally put a 9.7-cent per barrel tax on the purchase of crude oil by refineries and other industries. In a political compromise, Congress eliminated most Superfund liability for oil spills. Since the fees expired, oil companies have enjoyed a tax holiday and liability exemptions for the toxic contamination they cause.
• Chemical Feedstock Tax: Congress assessed a fee on the purchase of 42 toxic chemicals associated with dangerous substances at Superfund sites. The amount of tax ranged from $0.22 to $4.87 per ton, except xylene, which was taxed at $10.13 per ton. Also, the tax exempted certain chemicals when used for certain purposes (e.g. methane and butane when used for fuel) or when produced in certain ways (e.g. any listed chemicals derived from coal).
• Corporate Environmental Income Tax: Congress collected taxes on the profits of large corporations at a rate of 0.12 percent on taxable profits in excess of $2,000,000. Corporations in the manufacturing industrial sector (e.g. chemical and allied products, petroleum and coal products, electrical and electronic equipment) and mining sectors paid about 41 percent of this tax; these sectors are responsible for about 43 percent of all Superfund sites. Financial institutions, insurance, and real estate corporations accounted for almost 30 percent of the tax, with large corporations in the utility and other sectors making up the remainder.
ince 1980, the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program has worked to protect the one in four Americans, including more than 10 million children, who live within four miles of the nation’s most polluted toxic waste sites. After 25 years of experience, the Superfund program has evolved to protect Americans from toxic chemicals released when industry collides with nature, such as hurricanes and floods. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now must use this experience to face its biggest challenge yet—cleaning up the toxic pollution left behind after Hurricane Katrina flooded the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, funding shortfalls plague the Superfund program and may hinder its ability to respond to Hurricane Katrina and address the thousands of other polluted sites littered across the country.
In the 1970s, parents in Love Canal, New York, a community built upon a toxic waste dump, galvanized the nation when they demanded action from their elected officials to address the health problems afflicting local children. In response, Congress created the Superfund program in 1980 as the preeminent cleanup program for the nation’s most contaminated and toxic sites. Since its inception, the Superfund program has performed more than 7,000 emergency removal actions and permanently cleaned up 294 sites on the National Priorities List of the most toxic sites. Over the years, the Superfund program has evolved beyond just conducting cleanups at traditional hazardous waste sites; the Superfund program now supports response actions triggered by terrorism, natural disasters and other catastrophes. The Superfund program helped respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the anthrax contamination in the U.S. Senate, the devastating Midwest floods in 1993, and the initial federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In addition, the Superfund program has functioned as a safety net in hundreds of lesser-known situations when hazardous substances threatened communities after nature and industry collided. For example:
• The Gurley Pit Superfund site is situated in the floodplain of 15 Mile Bayou in northeast Arkansas. When 15 Mile Bayou flooded in 1980, water surged into Gurley Pit, releasing 500,000 gallons of hazardous waste onto residences and farmland. The Superfund program cleaned up the site and ensured that heavy rainfalls and flooding will no longer present a threat to local residents.
• In 1999, Hurricane Floyd dumped seven inches of rain over a 24-hour period in southeastern Pennsylvania. The resulting floodwaters carried toxic contaminants from an upstream industrial area into a residential neighborhood. Using the Superfund program, EPA identified two old landfills that were leaching a toxic brew into adjacent waterways. In 2001, EPA began planning long-term cleanup actions at these two sources to protect downstream residents.
• In 1997, a severe flood at Milo Creek washed toxic mining waste from the Bunker Hill Mine and Metallurgical Complex in northern Idaho onto 50 homes. The Superfund program removed the toxic waste from the homes and is stabilizing the Milo Creek channel to prevent future floods from dumping more toxic mining waste on downstream residents.
Hurricane Katrina presents EPA and the Superfund program with its biggest challenge yet – cleaning up after a flood of epic proportions. Hurricane forces and floodwaters that hit the heavily industrialized Gulf Coast in August 2005 created a stew of chemicals, sewage, oil, and pesticides that dispersed and settled widely. In the days and weeks after the hurricane, the Superfund program helped officials sample water for toxic chemicals, contain oil spills, remove barrels containing hazardous substances, and collect and dispose of hazardous waste. The full extent of these toxic releases will take years to understand and even longer to clean, but Superfund will continue to play a pivotal role in making the area safe again for local residents.
Unfortunately, the Superfund program must confront the challenge of cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina—and addressing thousands of other still contaminated sites across the country— with inadequate funding. The “polluter pays” fees levied on industries and chemicals that contribute to Superfund sites expired in 1995, leaving the program without a dedicated source of funding. Consequently, financial reserves in the Superfund trust have declined from a surplus of $3.8 billion in 1996 to levels that approach or reach zero at the end of each fiscal year, forcing average American taxpayers to shoulder more of the cost for toxic waste cleanups. In addition, Superfund’s financial demands have outstripped federal appropriations, leading to program funding shortfalls that slow or stop site cleanups and hinder EPA’s ability to address the backlog of contaminated sites.
As a result, the eve of Superfund’s 25th anniversary comes at a time when the program faces an uncertain future. To ensure that polluters, rather than regular taxpayers, pay to clean up Superfund sites, the polluter pays fees must be reinstated. Reinstating these fees will once again ensure that the Superfund program receives the funding it needs to function properly. In addition, a fully-funded Superfund program will be able to meet and overcome future emergencies and program challenges. In an era of federal budget deficits and program spending cuts amounting to billons of dollars, providing a reliable source of funding for the Superfund program with the polluter pays fees is sound public policy that will do much to protect public health and the environment.