Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Good afternoon. Chairman Lautenberg, as always, it’s good to see you, and I continue to hope for your speedy recovery.
We are here today to hold an oversight hearing on EPA’s Superfund program. As the Ranking Member on the EPW Committee, and as the Ranking Member on this subcommittee, I am glad to be here to discuss this important program.
As I’ve noted before, the Obama Administration has exploited the BP spill to pursue a radical agenda to shut down America’s domestic production of oil and gas. Of course, there’s ample evidence for that—just consider its recent support for legislation to re-impose the Superfund tax.
The Obama Administration has consistently supported that tax—but until recently, other than mentioning it in budget documents, its public support was muted. But the spill has changed that—now they feel the political climate is right to tax oil and gas companies.
Yet many forget how broadly the Superfund tax applies. If you own a business with over $2 million in revenue—regardless of what you manufacture—you would pay the tax. In other words: the Superfund tax is also a small business tax, affecting thousands of such businesses across the country, and their employees.
If the Obama Administration is serious about finding ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs, imposing a tax on small businesses is obviously the wrong remedy.
I should also note that responsible parties under Superfund already pay for approximately 70 percent of the clean-ups. I would challenge EPA to show me one site where a viable, potentially responsible party has not been made to pay their share. That’s as it should be. The other 30 percent are orphan sites—that means EPA can’t locate the responsible parties, because they no longer exist. Now again, some think reimposing the Superfund tax means more sites will be cleaned up faster. But that’s not true. As the Government Accountability Office noted last year in a report I requested, “the balance in the Superfund trust fund does not affect the funds available for current or future annual appropriations.”
Now, I’d like to turn to something more positive. I would be remiss not to mention EPA Region Six and once again say how pleased I am with the progress that we have achieved at Tar Creek. There is much more to be done, but I am very pleased with the progress we have made so far.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, one in four Americans lives near a Superfund site. For instance, the Washington Naval Yard is the closest Superfund site to the Capitol, located on the Anacostia River. Superfund sites are all around us, making this a program of great importance.
The pace of cleaning up Superfund sites has been a prominent issue and remains so today. However, the logical reason for this is not due to a lack of funding, as some of my colleagues may argue. This is due to the fact that EPA is addressing larger and much more complex sites, such as Tar Creek. By their very nature, these large sites take more time and resources to complete. EPA prioritizes these sites, and for those of us who have waited patiently, while other states have had multiple sites cleaned up in a given year, it is frustrating to hear these complaints.
If we want to expedite the pace of clean-ups, and ultimately reduce costs, in some cases, we should give more latitude to local and state officials, who know these sites first hand. That’s because sometimes, unfortunately, EPA can get in the way.
A prime example of this is the Highway 71/72 Refinery in Bossier City, Louisiana. This was a former refinery that was redeveloped for private residences and that eventually became contaminated. This was a site where the local and state governments and the company jointly worked out a viable solution. EPA, however, to the dismay of those involved, objected and overruled it.
One other Superfund issue that I would like to address is the need for EPA to reduce its administrative costs. A perfect example of this is EPA’s new Integrated Cleanup Initiative. This initiative attempts to remarket EPA’s progress at Superfund sites. This will provide new metrics to measure progress at Superfund sites. So EPA is essentially using taxpayers hard-earned dollars to create a public relations tool.
I believe that this makes no sense, and I hope that my colleagues on this committee will agree with me. Even if we disagree on Superfund issues, we will always use the same metrics that have been used for the past thirty years to measure progress at Superfund sites. So no one, except EPA, will be using this initiative. This is money that could be used on the ground to fund clean-ups; instead, it’s being used to wage a public relations campaign. This is exactly the type of administrative cost that EPA should be reducing instead of increasing, and I hope that they will redirect their funds to actually cleaning up these sites.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses especially Dr. J. Winston Porter testimony on panel two. Thank you.