Tax proposal to up cash in Superfund

A boat navigates down the polluted Gowanus Canal on in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The 140-year-old Brooklyn waterway was named as a Superfund site by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The move to cleanup of the Gowanus, which was opposed by the Bloomberg administration, will cost between $300 million and $500 million and could take 10 to 12 years.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Two items by way of introduction to our next story. First of all, one of the co-chairmen of the presidential commission that's investigating the Gulf oil spill said today that the six-month moratorium on deep water drilling is probably going to stay in place for a while. Big oil and its supporters say the industry's losing money every single day that it can't drill.

Also today, the Environmental Protection Agency said it supports a bill that would reinstate taxes on the oil and gas industry to pay for the Superfund program. That's the pot of industry money that was set up 30 years ago to clean up the worst of all the hazardous waste sites that are out there.

Marketplace's Rob Schmitz reports that pot needs some topping off.


Rob Schmitz: It may have seemed like a great name when it was established in 1980, but the term "Superfund" doesn't really describe it anymore.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer: What happened is that the "Superfund" dwindled.

That's Earl Blumenauer, Democratic congressman from Oregon. He says that when Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, they did away with a tax on the petrochemical industry that funded the clean-up of almost half of all Superfund sites. These were sites where nobody accepted responsibility for the contamination. Funding for these projects dried up seven years ago. Since then, taxpayers have had to pick up the tab.

Congressman Blumenauer has authored a bill that would reinstate the tax.

Blumenauer: For years, the industry has benefited from being able to have wide application of petroleum and chemical products. Part of the cost of doing business ought to be making sure that they are disposed of in a responsible fashion.

The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association isn't thrilled. Charles Drevna is the group's president.

Charles Drevna: Does the administration want a strong and vibrant domestic petrochemical and refining industry? Or do they want to outsource those products to foreign governments and foreign producers at the cost of hundreds of thousands in direct jobs, if not millions in indirect jobs?

Almost a quarter of all Americans live within four miles of a Superfund site. Lori Fisher heads a citizens group affected by contamination from a coal gasification plant in Burlington, Vt.

Lori Fisher: I don't know if we can just isolate one industry and maybe the tax has to be broader, but I think that it shouldn't solely be shouldered by citizens.

Especially, says Fisher, citizens who worry that they've already paid for these sites with their health.

I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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