Senate Dems’ bill would bring back Superfund tax

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and two of his colleagues introduced a bill Tuesday to reinstate the Superfund tax, which charges certain industries fees to clean up contaminated industrial sites.

The tax expired in 1995, and since the trust fund ran out of money eight years later, taxpayers have been on the hook for cleanups for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot recover the costs from a responsible party.

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“This legislation holds industries accountable for cleaning up the harmful results of their irresponsible practices,” Booker said in a statement. “This bill corrects an inexcusable injustice and places the onus on polluters to restore Superfund sites back to safe, healthy areas that can attract investment and economic development.”

Booker said New Jersey alone as 114 Superfund sites on the EPA’s priority list. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has concluded that the EPA does not have enough money to clean up the more than 1,300 sites nationwide.

“Businesses cannot contaminate our land, exploit our resources and endanger our communities without consequence,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), one of the measure’s sponsors. “Making polluters pay is essential to protecting the health of our families and our environment without overburdening average hard-working taxpayers, who shouldn’t be the ones paying for the mistakes of those who caused the problem in the first place.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, joined the New Jersey senators in introducing the bill.

When the tax expired in 1995, it charged an excise tax of 9.7 cents per barrel of crude or refined oil products, according to the Tax Policy Center. It also charged 22 cents to $4.87 per ton of various other chemicals and hazardous materials, along with taxes on products that use those substances and a corporate income tax surcharge.

The industries that were subject to the tax complained that they were being unfairly targeted, since the funds from the tax went to clean up all kinds of contamination, not just from their chemicals.

Booker, who leads the Environment and Public Works Committee’s subpanel with responsibility over the Superfund program, said at a hearing last month that he intended to introduce the bill.

At that hearing, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said reinstating the tax would charge businesses that have nothing to do with contamination for Superfund cleanups.