Table of Contents

What is Superfund?

  • The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, or Superfund, is designed to grant authority to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states and Native American nations to manage and clean up the United States’ most dangerous waste sites.
  • Superfund gives the EPA the responsibility to address acute local and national environmental emergencies that threaten public health and the environment.
  • Most importantly, Superfund creates a system where polluters have to pay for the messes they create. The EPA identifies the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) that created hazardous sites and requires them to fund and/or manage the cleanups.

What is the history of Superfund?

  • CERCLA came into existence after a State of Emergency was declared at Love Canal, New York in 1978. The act includes a retroactive liability provision that allows the EPA to hold past parties that created dangerous waste sites accountable for clean-up. Around 70% of Superfund cleanups have been paid by responsible parties.
  • People of color, immigrants, and low-income people are overrepresented in communities near Superfund sites. Historically, and to this day, polluters have deliberately targeted these communities when deciding where to dump waste.

What is the Polluters Pay fee and why isn’t it being collected?

  • The Polluters Pay fee is one of the ways Superfund ensures that people responsible for pollution fund its clean up. The EPA would collect a fee from the petroleum and chemical industries, which was used to fund cleanups for pollution sites that had no clearly identifiable responsible party or were polluted by bankrupt parties.
  • The fee also served as a motivation to switch to less hazardous production methods.
  •  The tax has not been collected since 1995, however, and by 2004, there was no longer any money in the Superfund. Now, the EPA is forced to fund Superfund through taxpayer money— taxpayers are paying to clean up pollution, rather than the polluters themselves.

What is CHEJ doing to put the “Super” back in Superfund?

  • Currently, CHEJ is working towards making Superfund super again by helping grassroots organizations and advocating the restoration of the Polluters Pays fees to refinance the CERCLA trust fund.
  • In July 2019, Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR) introduced legislation (H.R. 4088) that would revive the tax component of the federal Superfund program and once again force industries responsible for contaminating soil, air and water to pay for the cleanup of these sites.
  • This proposed law would also make funds available directly to the EPA on an ongoing basis instead of being subject to annual appropriations.
  • CHEJ has also created a petition to bring back the Polluters Pay Tax, which you can sign here.

Put the Super back in Superfund

Want to see polluters pay for their messes rather than taxpayers? Contact your representatives and tell them to support Representative Blumenauer’s bill: Superfund Reinvestment Act (H.R. 4088).

How is Superfund funded today?

The Polluter Pays Principle

The Polluter Pays Principle is the concept that those responsible for creating pollution should also be financially responsible for damages done to the environment as a result of the pollution. This principle is utilized around the world as a way to prevent damage to human and environmental health; some examples of the Polluter Pays Principle in the US include the Gas Guzzler Tax and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for motor vehicles.

Until 1995, the Superfund program also included Polluter Pays taxes, which were pooled into a trust fund that helped pay for the cleanup of Superfund sites. Despite bipartisan support, as evidenced by Reagan, Bush, and Clinton all seeking an extension of the taxes, Congress allowed the Superfund Polluter Pays taxes to lapse in 1995. The trust fund, which at one point was making almost $2 million per year between 1993 and 1995, was completely depleted of funds raised by the Polluter Pays tax by 2003.

Crude Oil and Chemical Taxes

Without Polluter Pays taxes, the Superfund program has become largely reliant on taxpayer money; according to a 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, taxpayers cover 80% of Superfund costs. To shift the financial responsibility of Superfund site cleanup away from taxpayers and back to those responsible for the pollution, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Superfund Restoration Act in July, 2019. By raising more funds for the Superfund program, this legislation would ideally allow the program to work more effectively and efficiently.

If enacted, this bill would make the following changes:

  • Restore the Hazardous Substance Superfund financing rate.
  • Increase the rate from 9.7 cents to 16.3 cents per barrel of crude oil, with the rate being adjusted for inflation after 2019.
  • Restore and increase tax rates on taxable chemicals, with rates being adjusted for inflation after 2019.
  • Change the legal definition of “crude oil” to include “any bitumen or bituminous mixture, any oil derived from a bituminous mixture (including oil derived from tar sands), and any oil derived from kerogen-bearing sources (including oil derived from oil shale)”.
  • Restore the Corporate Environment Income Tax to 0.12% of revenue in excess of $3,735,000.

Important aspects of the bill:

  • Does include a “sunset clause” – 2029.
  • Exports are not excluded from the terms laid out in the bill.
  • Not only reinstates oil and chemical taxes, but also raises the rates and includes a provision for inflation adjustments.
  • The list of taxable toxic chemicals has been updated.
  • Allows for direct access of funds from oil and chemical taxes rather than relying on Congress to appropriate funding from general revenue.
  • Includes a corporate environmental income tax for companies that have an income above $3,753 million. For every $10,000 in income over $3,753 million, the tax will cost companies $12.00, the price of a cheese pizza at Pizza Hut.

The Negative Impacts of Proximity to a Superfund Site

How are Superfund sites damaging to human health?

Continued exposure to the hazardous substances released from Superfund sites into the air, groundwater, and surface water can be incredibly detrimental to human health in communities within and surrounding the site.

Research has shown higher levels of cancer, birth defects, developmental disabilities, and other serious health issues in communities near Superfund sites.

Superfund sites are particularly dangerous for children; prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals can damage children’s health and even impact their performance in school.

Children have a much higher rate of exposure to environmental toxicants than adults, as they have higher intakes of water, food, and air than adults in relation to body weight; additionally, this higher rate of exposure is exacerbated by common behaviors of children, such as hand-to-mouth behavior, and playing close to the ground when outside.

Because of this higher rate of toxicant exposure, as well as their lessened ability to metabolize and excrete toxicants, children living or going to school on or near Superfund sites are particularly vulnerable to health issues.

In addition to increased levels of childhood cancer and birth defects, exposure to hazardous substances released from Superfund sites has been correlated with higher rates of suspension from school and repeating grade levels, lower standardized test scores, and decreased cognitive functioning.

Living near a Superfund site is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and the elderly.

Research has shown that pregnant women living near a Superfund site that has not been cleaned up have a 20 to 25% higher risk of having a child with congenital birth defects than those that live near a site that has been cleaned up.

The elderly are at a higher risk of developing health problems related to the release of toxicants from Superfund sites, as they generally have higher rates of comorbid conditions and decreased immune system activity.

Proximity to a Superfund site can lead to economic decline in a community.

Proximity to a Superfund site can have a strong negative impact on property values, as the negative connotation associated with the toxicity of Superfund sites can keep people from wanting to buy housing on or near them. Lower housing prices are often correlated with lower spending trends, and ultimately lower economic growth. Many communities that are affected by Superfund sites are already low-income; therefore, the effects of Superfund on the socioeconomic status of affected communities can worsen pre-existing economic issues.

The EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative works to redevelop and reuse formerly contaminated Superfund sites. The reclamation of this land has been shown to be beneficial to local economies, with increases in the number of on-site jobs, employment income from on-site jobs, property values, property tax revenue, and the number of businesses. All of these factors can help to revitalize the economies of communities affected by Superfund sites.