WASHINGTON – Chemical industry lobbyists spent more than $131 million between 2022 and 2023 urging Congress to back its interests, including opposition to a newly reinstated and fair tax forcing companies to pay for cleanup at some of the most polluted sites in the U.S.
Despite spending eye-watering amounts of money to get lawmakers on their side, the same industry is now whining that its members won’t be able to afford their share of the “polluter pays” tax without consumers suffering. Reading from the tired anti-tax playbook, the sector says it will have no choice but to pass the cost on via higher product prices.
The chemical industry cryfest is detailed in a recent report by NJ Spotlight News that highlights the astronomical lobbying dollars – a “near-record sum,” as the author notes.
For years, the industry used lobbying funds to help keep the long-expired polluter pays tax in the past. But the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021 revived the tax, finally putting companies back on the hook to pay for cleaning up their messes.
The tax works by charging chemical manufacturers and others whose toxic waste created the most contaminated industrial sites in the U.S., known as Superfund sites. The money goes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program. Reinstating the tax finally ends the burden on taxpayers to pay for many cleanup costs, which they have carried for the past 20 years.
“The chemical industry and their apologists in Congress have treated American taxpayers like the cleanup crew for decades, leaving them to cover the costs of remediating these contaminated sites,” said EWG President and Co-founder Ken Cook.
“It’s high time the culprits, not the public, foot the bill for mopping up the toxic waste plaguing countless communities across the country that pose substantial threats to human health and the environment," said Cook.
The chemical industry, of course, is apoplectic for once again being forced to pay a portion of the costs to clean up the toxic mess it’s made in communities across the country.
Jennifer Scott, spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main lobby group, believes the revived polluter pays tax is misguided, suggesting taxpayers, and not polluters, should be stuck with cleanup costs.
“We would note that the program has operated for the past 25 years without the tax, based upon general revenues and fund reimbursements,” Scott told NJ Spotlight News.
She also warned that the price of the tax will be passed onto consumers in the form of higher costs for products – a tired line that opponents of fair taxes frequently bring up.
Congress passed legislation in 1980 that created the Superfund program and the polluter pays tax that helped clean up some of the most contaminated sites in the U.S., including Love Canal, in upstate New York, and Silver Bow Creek, near Butte, Mont.
The tax expired in 1995 and Congress, led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), refused to reauthorize it. At the time, the program’s coffers contained an estimated $4 billion collected from polluters, but the fund finally went dry in 2003, placing the entire burden to cover cleanups squarely on the backs of U.S. taxpayers.
An estimated 78 million Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site, including 24 percent of all children under the age of 5, putting them at greater risk of being exposed to any number of highly toxic substances. These sites are also disproportionately located close to communities of color and the cause of a host of environmental and health problems.
There are more than 1,100 locations on EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites that need to be cleaned up. The recently renewed polluter fee will require those companies responsible for the pollution to help cover the costs and finally kickstart action at these sites.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.