Public Interest Research Group: polluters get a pass

While you were filing your federal income tax return this year, you should’ve been pleased to know that the corporate polluters were enjoying a $4 million-a-day tax holiday. That’s nationwide, too.

Yes, we will pay 315 percent more this year to clean up toxic waste sites than we did in 1995 when Superfund polluter pays fees ran out.

“Every April 15th, American families pay their taxes, but corporate polluters are let off the hook for toxic waste site cleanups,” said Julie Wolk, environmental health advocate for U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group). “By opposing the reinstatement of Superfund’s polluter pays fees, the Bush administration is charging regular taxpayers, instead of polluting industries, for toxic waste cleanups.”

Since Congress permitted the Superfund’s polluter pays fees to run out in 1995, the trust fund, for all practical purposes, is bankrupt. The cost to U.S. taxpayers has leaped from $300 million to $1.27 billion, an increase of 315 percent. At the same time, revenues from corporate taxes in this country fell from $207 billion in 2000 to $132 billion in 2003, a drop of 36 percent, according to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities. The Bush administration is the first in 23 years to not support or collect the fees or their reinstitution. The Senate recently declined to reinstate them by a narrow margin.

City officials decline to disclose who, if anyone, has paid for cleanup of Rockford’s southeast Superfund site, or what amounts have been paid, or where the money has gone.

Wolk said: “Without the polluter pay fees, waste cleanup competes with every other government program for scarce taxpayer money. Reinstating the fees would not only shift the burden of paying for toxic cleanups back on the polluting industries, but would also provide a dedicated funding source for the cash-strapped program.”

The Bush administration cleaned up only 40 Superfund sites last year, compared to an average of 87 sites per year in the mid to late 1990s. The EPA Inspector General said there was a $175 million funding shortfall for fiscal 2003, and a recent General Accounting Office letter outlined a 35 percent decrease in financing for the program since 1993.

“Communities across the country are at risk of chemical exposure and disease, and now they’re being charged with the cleanup costs as well,” Wolk said. “Congress should reinstate Superfund’s polluter pays fees, re-fund the program, and demand that the Bush administration start cleaning up more toxic waste sites.”

While corporate polluters enjoy a pass and escape consequences, the military polluters are trying to get a permanent permit to pollute their sites. The Department of Defense asked Congress to grant them exemptions from U.S. clean air and toxic waste laws at their U.S. bases.

Exemptions would include military installations in Illinois, many of which are littered with unexploded munitions and toxic hazards.

“The Bush administration wants exemptions from environmental laws designed to protect public health, even though the Department of Defense admits they don’t need these exemptions for military readiness,” said Ryan Canney, of Citizen Action Illinois.

This year, the administration requested exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Superfund. They made a similar request last year, but Congress found little evidence these laws interfere with military preparedness and said, “No.” They did, however, grant exemptions to the military from the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“These exemptions are putting the health of our troops, their spouses and children, in danger, as well as nearby communities,” Canney said. “Congress rejected these exemptions after the early success in Iraq last year. It’s hard to believe they will accept something this controversial, risking public health, in an election year.”

The Defense Department is required to observe environmental and public health laws, including the cleanup of polluted military bases. The proposed exemptions would exclude at least 8,087 operational ranges at 516 installations nationwide, on more than 24 million acres.

Illinois has four installations with a total of 33 functioning ranges. They are located at: Scott Air Force Base (three ranges); Joliet Training Center (12 ranges); Marseilles Training Area (16 ranges); and Springfield Training Site (two ranges).

Citizen Action said granting these exemptions would basically remove oversight from state government, which would allow Illinois to insure nearby communities are not harmed by pollution from military bases.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!