[audubon-news] Browner text again

  • From: "BIANCHI, John" <JBIANCHI@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "'audubon-news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx'" <audubon-news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>,"'chapter-communicator@xxxxxxxxxxxxx'" <chapter-communicator@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2002 11:40:49 -0500

For Jane Clark and others who cannot access the Times link

March 1, 2002

Polluters Should Have to Pay


WASHINGTON - In 1980, after Love Canal entered the public's consciousness,
Congress made an important commitment to Americans who found themselves
living on toxic dump sites, exposed to deadly carcinogens and chemicals that
threatened their health and lives. As a nation we said we would clean up
toxic sites - and the polluters, not the American people, would pay. 

For more than 20 years, the "polluter pays" principle has been a cornerstone
of environmental policy. Not only has the principle made possible the
cleanup of hundreds of the worst toxic waste dumps across the country, it
also caused private industry to better manage its pollution and waste. 

Remarkably, that principle is now under attack. The Bush administration has
announced that it will not seek reauthorization of the taxes levied on oil
and chemical companies that go into the Superfund trust fund that is used to
pay for cleanup of toxic waste sites.

The original Superfund law established three ways to pay the costs of
cleanups: those responsible for creating the site could clean up the site;
the Environmental Protection Agency could perform the cleanup with money
from the trust fund and recoup the costs from the responsible party later;
for those sites where no responsible party could be found, the cleanup would
be paid for out of the trust fund.



The very existence of the fund, in addition to financing cleanups, has given
the E.P.A. crucial leverage in getting reluctant parties to move forward
with cleanups on their own. A healthy trust fund enables the E.P.A. to say
to polluters: clean up your site or we will use trust fund money to do it.
And it will cost you more if we do it - you will have to pay for the cleanup
plus additional penalties.

The 1980 law imposed a tax on the oil and chemical industries to finance the
trust fund. In return, the oil industry was relieved of most of its
liability for petroleum contamination. While the oil industry is covered by
other environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, it is the only industry to
receive special treatment under the Superfund act. 

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton all collected
these Superfund taxes and sought their extension. Congress, however, allowed
the taxes to expire at the end of 1995, despite the Clinton administration's
annual requests that they be extended. In 1993, 1994 and 1995, these
Superfund taxes generated more than $2 billion a year.

The administration's decision not to seek an extension means that the
Superfund trust fund will be out of money by 2004. Yet the end of the tax
does not alter the limit on liability that the oil industry continues to
enjoy under the Superfund law. Failure to collect the taxes amounts to an
enormous windfall for the oil and chemical industries. 

Without the tax, the administration has only two choices: force taxpayers to
pay for more cleanups or clean up fewer sites. Given budget constraints, it
seems very likely that we will see far fewer cleanups in coming years.

That result would turn back the clock on the substantial progress made
during the past decade. In its early days, the Superfund program was
inefficient and slow. In fact, after the first 12 years of its existence,
only 155 sites had been cleaned up.

During the Clinton administration, the E.P.A. carried out an aggressive set
of reforms that helped reduce litigation delays over how cleanups would be
conducted. The administration also introduced a more flexible process for
reaching agreements with the polluters. With these reforms, 602 cleanups
were completed in eight years - with an average of 85 sites being cleaned
each year in the administration's final four years.

In addition, the Clinton administration created a new program to clean up
and redevelop less contaminated brownfield sites with a mix of public and
private funds. The E.P.A. also became more involved in helping cities turn
blighted and toxic sites into productive parts of a community: a world-class
golf course in Montana; soccer practice fields in Virginia; and numerous
commercial developments. 

Weakening the Superfund program, as the administration's plan would do,
would seriously compromise the health of our cities and neighborhoods. There
is no reason why any community with a toxic waste site should have to wait
for cleanup or why the pace of cleanup for the hundreds of Superfund sites
now awaiting action should slow down. There is no reason why oil companies
should not pay their fair share. And there is no reason why the "polluter
pays" principle that has worked so well should be abandoned and more of the
financial burden shifted onto average taxpayers.

Carol M. Browner was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
from 1993 to 2001.

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