On Tax Day, Taxpayers Paying for Polluters' Clean-Up

April 15, 2004

As Americans stream into post offices across the country today to mail their tax returns, their task will be made even less palatable when they learn that the Bush administration is now charging the public -- rather than polluters -- for the clean-up of Superfund sites.

The BE SAFE Network, a joint project of several national, state, and local environmental groups, is organizing community events in 26 states to highlight how the Bush administration is using tax dollars to clean up contaminated sites, rather than follow the traditional practice of collecting fees from corporate polluters. Despite federal law mandating that the polluters should pay, the public is underwriting toxic cleanups.[1]

A new tax analysis by U.S. PIRG, a member of the Be Safe network, has determined that taxpayers will spend upwards of $1.27 billion for toxics cleanups this year, compared to $303 million in 1995. In Ohio, for example, the state paid $9.9 million towards cleanup of 29 Superfund sites in 1995; in 2004, Ohio will pay nearly $41.3 million. Pennsylvania, with 92 Superfund sites, will spend nearly $50.7 million in 2004, compared to $12.2 million in 1995.[2]

"On Tax Day, Americans are especially concerned about how their tax dollars are being spent. Unfortunately, with the Superfund toxic waste program, the Bush administration is using tax dollars instead of making corporate polluters pay to clean up their toxic messes," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, another member of the network. "Americans are paying twice: once with their health and again with their taxes."

Local groups are distributing "polluter pay" stickers at over 40 events around the country, for taxpayers to place on their envelopes to the IRS. "We're reaching out to our neighbors this Tax Day," said Kendra Kimbirauskas of the Sierra Club in Oregon, "to let people know that whether or not there is a Superfund site in your backyard like we have in Portland, all taxpayers are now footing the bill for toxic waste cleanups."[3]

As reported by BushGreenwatch (Mar. 1, 2004),
http://www.bushgreenwatch.org/mt_archives/000063.php Congress established Superfund in 1980. It empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to order polluters to clean up sites contaminated by their business activities or other ventures. Polluters also funded a trust to pay for cleanup of sites where a responsible polluter could not afford to pay, could not be found, or was no longer in existence. These mandates constitute the "polluter pays principle."

The Bush administration is opposed to restoring industry fees to Superfund. U.S. PIRG and Sierra Club report that under the Bush administration, funding to the program has dropped by 25% in the last three years compared to levels during the 1990s; the rate of cleanups has fallen by over 50%; and, the number of sites being listed has declined from an average of 30 per year from 1993-2000 to an average of 23.[4]

Send a letter to the editor or your senators through Be Safe or attend a Polluter Pay Tax Day event in your area.


[1] Sierra Club Press Release, April 14, 2004.
[2] U.S. PIRG, Cost of Superfund to Taxpayers 2004.
[3] Sierra Club Press Release, op. cit.
[4] BushGreenwatch, Mar. 1, 2004.



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