I want to start off by thanking the Subcommittee Chairman John Thune for holding this hearing. Superfund was passed in 1980 and was at the time a step forward in dealing with environmental issues plaguing our country. We have learned a great deal since this legislation was passed and hope this hearing today will allow us to expose some strengths and weaknesses in this important yet complex issues.
As most on this committee know by now, the number one Superfund site in the entire country is in my home state of Oklahoma – known as Tar Creek. We have made significant progress at Tar Creek since I became Chairman. Much of that progress was due to getting the federal agencies under EPW’s jurisdiction to finally work together to remove the obstructions that had stalled clean up efforts. The lack of cooperation within the Federal family prior to my Chairmanship was simply unacceptable. In my view if the bureaucracy of these agencies would work in a collaborate effort then the sites could be restored at a much higher rate than is currently being accomplished.
My friends across the aisle will argue the only way to ensure a long term clean-up solution would be to reinstate the Superfund tax so that the “polluter pays” for the cost. I, like the administration, support the polluter pays standard under the current Superfund law. When a polluter can be identified that can pay, they are held liable for the damages. This has meant that about 70 percent of Superfund sites are cleaned up by the polluters without the involvement of government revenues. Other sites that are initially cleaned up by EPA are paid for from costs later recovered from the parties that contributed to the cause of the pollution. At a marginal number of these sites, responsible parties who contributed to the contamination have gone out of business or do not have assets to contribute to the clean-up. The government prioritizes and funds the cleanup at such sites out of general revenues from all taxpayers and Superfund Trust Fund balances to assure protection of public health.
Some will argue that because of no tax, sites are unfunded and therefore those communities are at risk. The truth behind this statement is that local communities are not at risk. Sites are funded based on the risks they pose, meaning that the most unstable sites receive a priority designation on funding. This is how EPA has always determined funding, regardless of Administrations. EPA focuses dollars where they are needed most. The Administration has displayed a strong financial commitment to Superfund and I support the current Superfund budget request.
I believe the reinstatement of any type of Superfund tax would create an inequitable burden on those companies that are within the law. The various funding methods are now working and to impose such a tax on businesses to raise money to put into a trust fund would serve as a general inhibitor on business development throughout our country. This tax would fall on businesses already paying for their own cleanups or that has never created a Superfund site and would put a burden on those companies to pay for cleanups on sites they had nothing to do with.
Critics would have those already doing their part pay twice and have the very small number of those who did contribute to the problem transfer their burden to everyone. Both Democratic and Republican controlled Congresses have rejected such an unfair approach, now that the recovery scheme that enforces the polluter pays principle is fully in place and working.
I believe that with renewed commitment from the administration in cutting down bureaucratic hurdles that are impeding clean-up and improved communication between agencies, the administration can make great strides in cleaning up these sites without putting great hardships on businesses not liable for these environmental damages.