June 22nd, 2010
11:00 AM ET

EPA: Renew 'polluters pay' tax to fund cleanups

By David S. Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson is asking Congress to reinstate a tax on oil, gas and chemical companies to help fund cleanup costs at some of America’s most polluted places.

The so-called “polluters pay” provision funds cleanup at Superfund sites where those responsible for the pollution either can’t be found, don’t have the money or have gone out of business.

Mathy Stanislaus, who runs the Superfund program, told CNN the tax is levied on companies that produce or sell substances commonly found at Superfund sites.

"It’s critically important,” Stanislaus said. “Between the taxpayers and those industries that produce substances that contaminate these sites, the administration believes those parties [industries] should pay for these orphan sites.”

The Superfund program is charged with cleaning up the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites – contaminated areas that often threaten the health of nearby residents.

The "polluters pay" tax expired at the end of 1995, leaving taxpayers with a more than $1 billion bill annually to clean up so-called orphan hazardous waste sites.

The American Petroleum Institute and American Chemistry Council, trade groups, say the tax is unfair because the government is asking industries to pay to clean up environmental problems they didn’t cause. They add that tax hurts their ability to compete in a global marketplace.

In her letter Monday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jackson asked Congress to reinstate the tax for 10 years, beginning January 1, 2011. The levy covers crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals and imported substances made using hazardous chemicals.

“The Speaker strongly supports the concept that polluters should pay for cleanup.  We'll be reviewing the Administration's proposal in the days and weeks ahead,” Pelosi’s press secretary Drew Hammill said in an e-mail.

There are 1,279 active Superfund sites. Of those, 606 are so-called orphan sites currently being cleaned up at taxpayer expense, according to the EPA.

Read more about toxic chemicals in Dr. Sanjay Gupta's investigation,  "Toxic America."

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soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. rellasmom

    I agree that the costs of clean up should be paid by polluters. It is the same type of "tax/fee/surcharge" that is paid by many citizens on their property tax bills, electric bills, property insurance bills. When Florida was hit in 2004 & 2005 hurricanes, our insurance companies and electric companies, and county officals were not financially prepared to cover the costs to clean up and fix everything. The citizens of Fl were screwed. We paid most of our own way back then, and have since been paying a tax/fee/surcharge to on all these bills to build up a fund to stop this from happening again. Basically, we are feeding the fund for them, so our next claims will be covered. So, once again, it should be the responsible party that should come up with the $$, in advance. Funding or Rebuilding the fund after the fact is TO LATE!!!

    June 22, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. maxine

    This is just plain crazy. Every tax given to gross polluters are passed on to the consumer. Can you afford it? I certainly cannot. I receive $650+240 from soc. sec. disability. I can't even afford to live by myself. Rent in California exceeds my ability to pay. It's the same in Co.,N.M., Tx.., Az.., and Nv. Been there, done that.

    June 22, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. jason

    Polluters shouls absolutely pay for the clean up of their mess. Why should tax payers foot the bill? Corporate wellfare is wrong and should be addressed. If this is truly a free market society then we need to reevaluate how companies are held liable for their actions and leave it to the responsible parties to pay their fair share of taxes and fees. Taxpayers absolutely do not need to subsidize private corporations.

    June 22, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. danvironmentalist

    SOMEONE has to pay, maxine. we end up paying for clean-up either through taxes, or through passed-through charges to the polluters. at least if we charge the polluters to cover the costs they will be forced to consider the impacts of their products and practices.

    June 22, 2010 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Tod Smith

    This has to be done. No matter what the cost!

    June 22, 2010 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dave

    If people cannot pay a small added cost in the products they buy to support living in a healthy environment, then those people should be prepared to make their own products and see how they get buy. When you rent a room at a motel/hotel you expect the motel owner to have cleaned the room and changed the sheets before you move in, don't you!!! When mold and weeds start growing on the sheets, that's when I say, "I'll pay a little more and sleep a little better... and healthier." Same analogy goes for our environment. You'll be swimming in your own crap if it wasn't treated or disposed of properly. How do you think that is paid for?

    June 23, 2010 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dave

    So, if you want relief from a tax, ask your representatives to give you a break when you file each year – if you qualify. Someone simply has to pay something to clean the house. If we can afford as taxpayers to clean up sites after the fact, the users of the products can afford to pay that tax when they purchase the goods. Again, if you need the goods to survive and you cannot afford the added cost, then you need to ask the taxpayers to help you out at tax time. I sympathize with you, Maxine, but your situation calls for an exemption for you and others like you. Taxes are not all bad. Taxes are what provides you with your soc. sec. disability checks. There's no free lunch!! If you think you're getting a free lunch, believ that someone else paid for it!!!

    June 23, 2010 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Looking for Signs of Intelligence

    I think they should pay for clean-up, but as soon as you say they're going to be charged a tax for it, they will turn around and incorporate that tax into what they charge and the consumer will, as usual, end up paying for it. I wish the EPA would quit giving slaps on the wrists for violaters and hand down some heavy fines that will wake these companies up and make them put safety first before profits. I know a man who bought a piece of property for his family, not a large lot, less than 10 acres. He didn't what was previously done to that property in the past. Some how in his improvements to the land, the EPA found about a chemical in the ground on a part of it. He had no idea how it got there, but now he is responsible for the clean up that the EPA requires. EPA was going to charge him over $800,000 for clean up. The property isn't worth much more than $10,000. He can't sell it or do anything until clean even though he had absolutely nothing to do with it. He found a private company that is going to clean it for around $100,000. Why are citizens being punished for what big corporations do and what their chemicals cause. Punish the ones that are responsible. There are a lot of oil and gas leaks that aren't reported. The EPA needs to keep their eyes on these companies, make them environmentally responsible and liable, but not at consumers expense. These are the companies that make the most money. Profits in the billions of dollars per quarters.

    August 11, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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    January 23, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply

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