Monday, May 29, 2017

Republican EPA chief ignores republican underfunding of Superfund cleanup

Note that Congress sets the federal budget, and that the author of the second article in The Hill doesn't mention that until near the end, when many/most readers would have stopped reading.
Authors: Kaley Beins and Stephen Lester
Contributions: Neggin Assadi, Vesta Davis and Lois Gibbs
Dec. 2015

Superfund 35th Anniversary Report


When Superfund was created on December 11, 1980 through the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, a Trust Fund was set up with approximately $1.6 billionto pay for the cleanup of any site where a polluter could not be identified, was bankrupt, or refused to take action. Superfund was financed by polluter pays fees from the companies responsible for the hazardous chemical releases.
By 1995, Superfund had accumulated nearly $4 billion. However, the authorization to collect these fees ended that year and was not reauthorized by Congress. Consequently, in 2003 the program ran out of money and the entire financial burden of paying for the cleanup of the worst orphan toxic sites in America fell to the taxpayers. In the past five years, Congress has annually allocated approximately $1.26 billion of general revenues—taxpayer money—to the Superfund program.
Funding for Superfund has continued to decrease from approximately $2billion in 1999 toless than $1.1 billion in 2013(in constant dollars) according to a federal Government Accountability Office(GAO)report. This decrease has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of sites cleaned up. From 2001 to 2008, there was more than a 50% decrease in the number of sites cleaned up. This slide continued during the Obama Administration and recently under the direction of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy when there was a 40% further reduction in Superfund cleanups—from 20 in 2009 to a mere 8 in 2014.
The lack of polluter pays fees and the dependency on taxpayer revenues has led to a funding shortfall, which has weakened Superfund’s response to pressing environmental health concerns. In September 2015, the GAO issued a report that identified three problems linked to the lack of adequate funding of the Superfund program: (1) a decline in the number of remedial action completions; (2) a decrease in construction completions; and (3) a diminished efficiency in completing each project.
The agency has also started fewer cl eanups since the Trust Fund ran out of polluter pays fee money. [No surprise.]


EPA chief puts new spotlight on cleanup program (The Hill's headline)
By Timothy Cama - 05/29/17

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt is looking to make a key federal program focused on cleaning contaminated sites an integral part of his agenda at the agency.

With an eye toward expediting cleanups of contaminated sites and getting to work on languishing projects, Pruitt in recent weeks has formed a task force on the Superfund program and has issued a directive for the most expensive projects to go to him for approval.

Pruitt has also used the program's recent history to criticize the Obama administration, pointing out that the more than 1,300 sites on the EPA’s priority list for cleanups is bigger now than it was when former President Barack Obama took office.

Superfund – a key program under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 – has broad, bipartisan support in Congress and elsewhere, owing to its mission of cleaning up contaminated areas and making them usable for commercial development.
[But the republican Congress hasn't been willing to fund it as is needed.]

Pruitt’s focus on the program, therefore, could pay dividends for his political future – and he’s unlikely to face strong opposition. But experts familiar with the program warn that his Superfund agenda could be ineffective or short-sighted, since it could lead to cleanups that are faster and cheaper but less thorough.

The EPA chief's critics argue that the real problem with the Superfund is funding, owing in part to the expiration of a tax on the oil and chemical industries that has expired.
[Which the republican Congress refused to renew.]

The Trump administration could make the funding problem worse. President Trump’s budget proposal this week sought a $327 million cut – or 30 percent – to Superfund.

For the most part, the EPA uses the program to supervise cleanups funded by the companies responsible for the contamination. But if those companies are bankrupt or cannot pay, the EPA occasionally pays for the process, using taxpayer money, since the tax has expired.


Obama proposed each year he was in office to reinstate the Superfund tax on oil and chemical companies, which funded orphan cleanups and expired in 1995.

Numerous Democrats, like Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), have proposed bringing it back, but their push has gotten little traction.

“Every year, Congress has chosen not to pass that, and basically say that the taxpayers should pay for these, which I don’t think makes any sense,” Stanislaus said.





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