Superfund Cleanups Underfunded And Slowing
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to provide a single dollar of funding to clean up 32 Superfund sites across the nation, shows a report by the agency’s office of the inspector general.
According to the Inspector General report, regional EPA offices requested cleanup funds for 81 high priority remedial waste sites, but the EPA refused to fund 20 sites, including seven listed as a top priority by the National Risk-Based Priority Panel.
Remedial sites are those that need construction work such as building removal to stabilize the site and prevent additional pollutant seepage.
In addition to the sites receiving zero funding, the EPA only partially funded another 35 sites, meaning that 55 of the 81 high priority waste sites received less funding than needed to make them safe.
The report also revealed that another 12 long term response sites are not being funded at all, and 19 long term sites are being funded inadequately. These response sites, with ongoing operating and maintenance activities, were denied 43 percent of the funding requested, putting communities where cleanups are close to completion at risk of recontamination.
The funding slowdown means more health and environmental risks for nearby communities. For example, copper wastes are continuing to pollute a stream near the Elizabeth Mine site in Vermont, and pollution from the Atlas Tack site in Massachusetts is damaging wetlands.
“Many of the sites that have received no funding are in communities that have waited years for corporate polluters to clean up their messes. It is unjust to force these people to wait any longer,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club environmental quality program.
The Sierra Club said the best solution is to restore the polluter pays principle to give the government enough money to clean up these toxic sites. Since the Superfund law was signed in 1980, Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all supported a tax on chemical and oil companies that funds cleanup of sites on the National Priority List or Superfund list.
But this tax expired in 1995, and Congress has refused to renew it. In 1996, the Superfund trust fund had a balance of $3.8 billion collected from polluters for cleanups. Next year, the fund is projected to contain just $28 million, shifting the clean up costs to taxpayers.
“By letting polluters off the hook and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up toxic waste sites, the Bush Administration is leaving our communities at risk from toxic waste,” Hopkins said. “Families shouldn’t have to worry about toxic waste festering near their homes. This report shows that Americans families are paying a terrible price for the Bush Administration’s decision to turn its back on the sensible, obvious solution: Make the polluters pay.”
The Inspector General report also documents that the EPA’s effort to clean up toxic waste sites is slowing under the Bush administration. The EPA completed construction on only 47 sites in 2001, far fewer than the 75 it projected and just over half of the 87 achieved in 2000.