Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was recently asked by Fox News how much it will cost to clean up the nation’s most severely polluted toxic waste sites. His answer shows that the man in charge of the federal Superfund program doesn’t know how it works – or is deliberately hiding the truth that cleanup costs fall mostly on taxpayers.
Steve Doocy, host of Fox & Friends: “How much is that going to cost?”
Pruitt: “Well, we have – the great thing about this is we have private funding. There are people out there responsible for these sites to clean up. The moneys are there to do so. It's not a matter of money, it’s a matter of leadership, and attitude, and management.”
The fact is, the so-called “polluter pays” tax on the petrochemical industry expired in 1995. Congress has not re-authorized it, so the burden of paying to clean up more than 1,300 EPA-certified Superfund sites is left largely to Americans like you and me.
Fifteen years ago Chemical & Engineering News reported that Superfund was “running on empty.” As the fund dried up and a much larger share of the cost fell to citizens, the pace of removing toxic waste from the sites has slowed to a crawl.
In fact, here’s what the Government Accountability Office’s audit of the program said in 2010:
Not long after the authority for the taxes that served as its main source of revenue expired in 1995, the Superfund trust fund started to diminish. Further, appropriated funding for cleanups has declined over time in real dollars, and the limited funding has caused delays in cleaning up some sites in recent years. The limited funding, coupled with increasing costs of cleanup, has forced EPA to choose between cleaning up a greater number of sites in a less time and cost efficient manner or cleaning up fewer sites more efficiently.
An estimated 53 million people – one out of six Americans – live within three miles of one of the 1,337 EPA-certified Superfund sites. As Pruitt acknowledged on TV, the toxic substances at those sites pose “great risk to the citizens in those areas.” So how is the Trump administration, as Pruitt said, “actually taking steps to do things to clean up” the sites?
President Trump’s budget proposes gutting funding for Superfund cleanups by 30 percent – taking $300 million out of the $1.1 billion program.
"As long as Trump and Pruitt are in charge, there’s not a snowballs’ chance in hell that polluters will be forced to pay for cleaning up their toxic messes that endanger Americans’ health," said EWG President Ken Cook. “By the week, it’s becoming clearer that for this administration, public health protection is not a priority, but a target."
Rep. Frank Pallone, a democrat from New Jersey, which has more Superfund sites than any other state, has authored legislation to reinstate the tax on polluters.
“The American taxpayer should not be paying for the mistakes of corporate polluters," said Pallone. "The Superfund Polluter Pays Act will replenish the necessary funds by holding corporations accountable for their mistakes and environmental degradation.”
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com