President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan is a Chance to Right a 26-Year-Old Wrong

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By: Kristen Millstein, Communications Intern
After several months of working on the Make Polluters Pay campaign with CHEJ, hearing that President Biden’s infrastructure bill included a Polluters Pay Tax felt like a breath of fresh air. The Polluters Pay Tax, which expired in 1995, funded the Superfund program and was used to clean up toxic waste sites when the responsible party could not be identified or was unable to pay. Since then, money to clean up toxic sites has come from general tax revenue. These funds are not sufficient, and they force ordinary taxpayers to pay for the mess corporate polluters made. The number of cleanups has steadily declined due to a lack of funding and the backlog of toxic sites has increased. Efforts by environmental groups and lawmakers to reinstate this tax have failed thus far. However, it is difficult not to feel some hope for this new push to reinstate the tax and finally hold corporations accountable for pollution and toxic waste. The current political moment might be just what we need to right a 26-year-old wrong.
It’s easy to miss the Polluters Pay Tax among all the other policies and priorities included in President Biden’s proposal. It’s all the way at the bottom, under a tiny subheading that says “Eliminate Tax Preferences for Fossil Fuels and Make Sure Polluting Industries Pay for Environmental Clean Up.” But though it’s only a small part of a much larger plan, its impact could be life-changing for the communities living near toxic sites. From California to New Jersey, CHEJ works with communities suffering from health problems like cancer, kidney disease, and autoimmune conditions due to toxic exposure from Superfund sites. Some communities have been on the National Priority List for forty years and are still waiting for clean up, and the list is only growing. With the reinstatement of this tax, the EPA could finally begin to do the clean-up work it is supposed to do and protect the health of the 73 million Americans living within 3 miles of a Superfund site.
This is an incredible opportunity, but we can’t assume the tax will pass. Industry is already ramping up its attacks against the legislation, and no Congressional Republicans have expressed any support for raising taxes on corporations. Slim Democratic majorities in the House and Senate mean we must unify all Democratic congresspeople behind this infrastructure package and the Polluters Pay Tax in particular. Democrats Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have already introduced Polluters Pay bills. Now is the time to call our representatives, activate our frontline communities, and put the pressure on lawmakers from every state to support the Polluters Pay Tax–we’ve waited 26 years, and we cannot wait any longer.
Photo Credit: CHEJ

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