Today this Subcommittee will be addressing an important issue for Americans and that is the clean up of toxic waste sites. The Superfund program was enacted over 25 years ago to deal with sites that were endangering the health of our citizens and the environment. I am happy to say that for the most part, this program has been quite a success. A great number of these sites have been cleaned up and we have established additional provisions in the law to guard against the creation of new sites and hold those accountable for any pollution to our environment.
I anticipate discussion today regarding the pace of clean ups and the addition of new sites to the National Priorities List. It is important to note that clean up rates from the Clinton Administration reflect completions of simpler and smaller Superfund sites – the low hanging fruit. What are left today are highly complicated sites. I know that in Oklahoma, I have been concerned with the progress at the Tar Creek Superfund site. Over the last few years, I have been pleased to see a new collaboration among the federal and state agencies involved in this site, and although I know there is still much left to do, I appreciate your work and the work of Regional Administrator Greene and the Region 6 Superfund director Sam Coleman
Within Superfund, we must prioritize the protection of human health first. Once this is done, some sensible analysis should go into the clean ups of these sites. Cost considerations should be balanced with future intent of the land use and risk of exposure. There needs to be multiple clean up alternatives considered for each site and this important decision should be made by high level EPA officials - someone that can be held accountable rather than EPA bureaucrats.
In fact, it has been a focus of mine while I was Chairman, and I will continue to press for accountability of the EPA regions. All too often the regions disregard their agency’s own guidance and directives, making decisions that incur significant long term costs for the agency without any type of review. For example, I have been most troubled to learn of the Federal Creosote Site in Manville, New Jersey. In this case, the EPA has acted contrary to its own guidance and excavated 450,000 tons of dirt and shipped a significant portion of it to Canada for incineration. Amazingly, the decision was made by someone at the EPA to dig up a shopping mall parking lot and excavate 125,000 tons of dirt only to be recovered by another parking lot. And for this 50 acre site, the price tag is around $300 million dollars for the American tax payers. This type of “gold plated” clean up makes no sense.
We hear from some that the Superfund tax should be reinstated because EPA lacks funding for cleanups. First of all, this simply is not true. But how can this assertion even be made, when we hear of such outrageous spending with the money that they do have. Irresponsible spending at one site, like what I just described, only takes away valuable resources from other sites. That is why I am working with the Majority Leader Harry Reid on this issue and the two of us will be requesting the GAO to investigate just how the Federal Creosote Site literally grew into a money pit for the American taxpayers.
Some of my colleagues would like to see the Superfund corporate tax reinstated. I am strongly opposed to this tax as it is patently unfair. This tax does not distinguish a polluter from a company that is an environmental steward. In fact, when applied, this tax unfairly targeted the oil and chemical industries penalizing companies who had no contact with any Superfund site. The tax goes where the money is, NOT where the responsibility lies. This is not a targeted tax on polluters. This is an indiscriminate tax on business.
Supporters of this tax imply that if we do not reinstate the tax we will not have enough money to clean up sites. This is not true. There has NEVER been a correlation between the amount of money raised by the tax and the dollars spent on clean up. For example, in 1996 the tax fund was at its highest level, yet the amount spent by the Clinton Administration for Superfund clean up was at a 10 year low. While in 2004, the money spent by the Bush Administration was at a 10 year high, while the fund was at a low point.
I look forward to today’s hearing and hope that we discuss reasonable and fair reforms to the Superfund program.