Booker wants Superfund tax reinstated

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is calling for a reinstatement of the Superfund tax that helps pay for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up contaminated sites, saying it would bring back a fair system in which polluters pay for cleanups.

The tax paid for “orphaned” sites, in which the company responsible for the contamination has gone bankrupt or otherwise cannot pay the costs. It expired in 1995, and since then, EPA has relied on appropriated funds for the program.

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At a Tuesday hearing on the Superfund program hosted by the Environment and Public Works Committee’s oversight subcommittee, Booker said he and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) will sponsor legislation to reintroduce the tax placed on oil, gas and other chemical companies. Booker is chairman of the panel.

“This bill will reinstate the excise tax on polluting industries, as approved by President Reagan, in order to provide funding for Superfund cleanup,” said Booker.

The tax’s expiration is only part of the Superfund program’s financial problems, he said. Its appropriated budgets in 2013 and 2014 were the lowest in 25 years.” “Nationwide, there are hundreds of Superfund sites that on the national priority list where remediation has not even begun,” he said. “And there are hundreds more sites on the list where remediation is ongoing, but too often the pace is slowed by inefficient funding problems.”

In addition to the legislation, Booker said he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, will ask the Government Accountability Office to audit Superfund’s financial status.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), the panel’s top Republican, recognized the importance of the Superfund program, but he did not believe the tax is the right way to go.

 “By taxing each barrel of oil produced and imposing a surtax on income earned over $1.2 million by corporations, even small businesses that do not have any risk of contamination are required to pay the tax,” he said.

He said President Obama has requested the tax in budget proposals, but did not want it to go to the Superfund program.

“It makes me think that the purpose behind the administration’s Superfund tax proposal is more about imposing more taxes on industry than it is about cleaning up contaminated sites,” he said.

Inhofe said EPA should be more efficient with its funding and “do more with less.”