By Liz Goodiel, CHEJ Science and Tech Fellow
Take a moment and imagine your dream home. Maybe your dream home is set on a beautiful ocean front with large windows that overlook the rolling waves and the pink summer sunsets. Perhaps your dream home is located in the mountains, surrounded on all sides with towering trees where you can step outside and instantly breathe in the fresh pine. Or maybe your dream home is right where it is now, filled with family, laughter and memories. Wherever your dream home is, you worked hard for it. You managed the home repairs, paid the bills, supported the family, and you made a house a home.
Now take a moment to imagine that an uninvited visitor came and damaged that home. The house that you worked so hard for is now broken, the windows are shattered, the front lawn is destroyed, and your house now has a gaping hole that you didn’t ask for. What is even more unfair is now that outsider isn’t even going to pay to repair your home. He is going to drive away, with the rubble in his rearview mirror, and leave you to clean it up. This visitor damaged your property, so why isn’t he going to be the one to pay for the repairs? Why has he left you standing there to figure out how to fix what is broken? You’re left with your checkbook in one hand and a hammer in the other, forced to undertake the repairs that will take a lot of time, money and hard work.
Across the United States, nearly 53 million Americans are overwhelmed by contamination and health concerning pollution in their own communities created by corporations and facilities. To combat this problem, the Superfund program was created in 1980 to manage the cleanup of the most toxic waste sites where the responsible party was not identified or went out of business. Throughout the course of the program’s history, Superfund has received its funding in two different ways. The first is through budget appropriations the Environmental Protection Agency receives yearly based on the federal budget sourced by American tax dollars. The second source of funding was through polluter taxes, also known as the Polluter Pays Fees. Polluter Pays Fees were taxes enforced on companies that produced chemicals, oil, or other hazardous waste. These fees were designed to make polluters monetarily responsible for the cleanup of any damage they created in the process of production.
The Superfund tax fees ended in 1995, relieving polluters of the responsibility to pay for the cleanup of contaminated sites. The sole success of the Superfund program currently relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget which is currently at its smallest in two decades. Polluters are not required to pay for the damage they have created and, in effect, American’s have been forced to compensate for this loss in the form of tax dollars. In the last two decades, American tax dollars have paid for more than $21 billion in Superfund site cleanup. Polluters have torn down the “dream home” and walked away, leaving the residents behind to pay for the mess they didn’t ask for nor create.
In July of 2019, Representative Earl Blumunaer of Oregon proposed the Superfund Reinvestment Act (H.R. 4088) to bring the cleanup burden back to polluters. Sponsors of the bill include Representatives Gerry Connolly (VA), Jerry McNerney (CA), Terri Sewell (AL), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Matt Cartwright (PA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.). The proposed bill will require polluting companies to pay an excise tax of 0.12 percent on the amount of a company’s modified environmental tax taxable income that exceeds $3,735,000. In other words, for a company that makes over $3,735 million in net income, each additional profit will be taxed at a rate of 0.12 percent. For example, if a company that makes an additional $10,000 over the $3,735 million threshold, its taxable amount will be equivalent to the cost of one cheese pizza ($12.00). If a company does not meet the threshold of $3,735 million, it is not required to pay any additional tax.
Currently, polluters escape billions of dollars in cleanup costs for damages they created. With Representative Blumenaur’s proposed legislation, the cleanup burden will be transferred from American taxpayers back to the parties responsible for pollution. Polluters are the ones responsible for creating unhealthy hazardous sites, why are they not the ones responsible for cleaning it up?