EPA pushes Congress to revive Superfund tax on oil, chemical companies

“The BP oil catastrophe has focused much-needed attention on the importance of holding companies responsible for the messes they make,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has introduced legislation to reinstate the fees.

The U.S. EPA sent a letter Monday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Joe Biden — in his capacity as Senate president — containing a proposal to reinstate the tax for a decade.

The taxes feed the trust fund that is used for hazardous waste site cleanups in cases where the responsible parties can’t be located or can’t pay.

EPA, in announcing the effort, said that since the taxes lapsed, the cleanup fund has been financed through general revenues, “thus burdening the taxpayer with the costs of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites.”

“This draft legislation, by reinstating the Superfund taxes, would ensure that parties who benefit from the manufacture or sale of substances commonly found in contaminated sites contribute to the cost of cleanup,” states the letter.

The taxes — which include a 9.7 cent-per-barrel tax on crude oil and petroleum products — would bring in almost $19 billion over a decade, according to EPA. The taxes also cover hazardous chemicals, imports that use hazardous chemicals as a component, and some corporate income.

“Our taxes should be paying for teachers, police officers and infrastructure that is essential for sustainable growth — not footing the bill for polluters. Today, we are formalizing our call to Congress to pass this important legislation and ensure responsible steps to keep our communities clean,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, in a prepared statement.

Stanislaus is slated to appear Tuesday before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee panel on Superfund — which Lautenberg chairs — to discuss the program.

The American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade group, slammed the EPA proposal Monday.

“The fact is, since the taxes expired in 1995, responsible parties have continued paying for the cleanup of Superfund sites and continue to reimburse EPA for all of its cleanup costs,” said Cal Dooley, the group’s CEO, in a prepared statement.

“America’s chemical makers and others targeted by the Superfund tax have paid for site remediation several times over: We paid for sites for which we were responsible, we helped pay for ‘orphan’ sites where we were not the responsible party, and we paid corporate taxes such as the Corporate Environmental Income Tax. It would be inappropriate and unfair to impose Superfund taxes on companies with no responsibility for site contamination,” added Dooley, a former Democratic House member from California.

But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has authored House legislation to reinstate the taxes, argues that since the taxes expired, federal funding for cleanups has “slowed to a trickle” and more than 1,600 sites are not getting cleaned up.

“By renewing the tax, the industries that had a hand in creating the problem — not taxpayers — will once again be held accountable for cleaning it up. More importantly, we can put tens of thousands of people to work by investing in the restoration of these polluted sites,” he said in a prepared statement after EPA sent its proposal to Congress.

Cross-posted from E2-Wire.