By Brendan Lyons of the Times Union. The usefulness of the EPA in cleaning up Superfund sites, a creation which often gets credited to Lois Gibbs and is a label for toxic waste removal as a government and corporate responsibility, is severely unfunded. Here’s a look at some of those repercussions.
The 2002 chemical release would haunt the tiny village near Rochester for years. The accidental discharge at the Diaz Chemical plant showered contaminants on the residential neighborhood surrounding the facility, blanketing homes and playgrounds with potentially toxic substances.
A few months later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would declare the plant a federal Superfund site, took over responsibility for relocating the occupants of eight homes who fled and refused to return to their residences. It took another nine years for the EPA to settle on a plan to fully clean up the site. Two weeks ago, workers finally began relocating a public water line that runs through the abandoned factory site in Orleans County.
“Anytime you have a time lag like we experienced, it’s always frustrating,” said John W. Kenney Jr., who was mayor of the village of Holley for 10 years beginning in 2006, and a village trustee for three years before that.
A 75-year-old who has lived in the village for more than 50 years, Kenney said it was frustrating that it took so long for the EPA to mobilize its cleanup plan and arrange for the eventual sale of the abandoned residences, which the EPA last week said is “being worked on in preparation to have the eight homes placed back on the real estate market.”
For the embattled EPA, the arguably slow response times to many environmental disasters — some of which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up — may be tied to dwindling funding rather than a lack of urgency.
A trust fund that was set up when President Jimmy Carter signed the 1980 law establishing the federal Superfund program began to run short of cash in the 1990s. The decline came after Congress — and also President George W. Bush during his two terms — repeatedly declined to support renewing a federal tax previously imposed on petroleum and chemical companies, which are often blamed for the nation’s worst environmental disasters.
The “polluter pays” tax, as it’s sometimes called, expired in 1995 and was never restored despite urgings to Congress from every U.S. president since Carter — except the most recent Bush.
Without the money, many Democratic lawmakers say the EPA has been hobbled and fallen behind in its mission to clean up the nation’s most severely polluted sites. In a report to Congress last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that in 2013 roughly 39 million people — 13 percent of the U.S. population — lived within three miles of a federal Superfund site. The report said more than a third of those living near the sites were either under the age of 18 or were 65 years or older. The EPA’s Region 2, which includes New York, had the largest number of people — 10 million, or about one-third of the region’s population — living within a three-mile radius of a federal Superfund site.
Thanks to Brendan Lyons and the Times Union for sharing this story with us.
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