Superfund cleanups could be delayed

Eighteen Superfund cleanups in Illinois could be slowed down or stopped due to a lack of funding for the Superfund program, according to a new report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group. Cleanup Slowdown: How Under-Funding the Superfund Program Harms Communities Across America shows that the Kerr-McGee Sewer Treatment Plant in West Chicago did not receive funding last year, exposing communities to dangerous toxic waste for even longer periods of time.

“Twenty-five years after Love Canal, the toxic waste catastrophe that prompted passage of the Superfund law, the Bush administration is slowing down cleanups and keeping the public in the dark about which Illinois Superfund sites will receive cleanup funds this year,” charged Illinois PIRG Campaign Director Isaac Bloom. “It is unclear when sites like West Chicago’s Kerr-McGee, which is contaminated with radioactive agents, will finally be cleaned up,” he concluded.

In total, 522 Superfund toxic waste site cleanups across the country could be affected by a lack of funding for the Superfund program. The Bush administration’s funding announcement last month showed that only 10 out of 20 new projects will receive funding this year. The administration gave no information about funding for the hundreds of sites around the country with ongoing cleanup work.

“The Bush administration and Congress have underfunded the nation’s pre-eminent program for cleaning up the most dangerous toxic waste sites in the country for too long,” said Isaac Bloom. “Millions of Americans remain at risk of chemical exposure and disease until we get these sites cleaned up.”

Last yer, the Bush administration cleaned up 42 Superfund toxic waste sites—two in Illinois—and expects to clean up approximately 40 sites this year. This is more than a 50 percent decrease from the late 1990s when EPA cleaned up an average of 87 sites per year. According to a congressionally requested study completed in 2001, the Bush administration has under-funded the Superfund program by between $1.2 and $1.8 billion from 2001-2004, leaving communities in Illinois at risk of chemical exposure and the diseases caused by toxic chemicals.

Congress allowed Superfund’s polluter-pays fees to expire in 1995, giving polluters a $4 million a day tax holiday and forcing regular taxpayers to foot more and more of the bill for toxic cleanups. As the trust fund dwindles to zero, regular taxpayers, who paid 18 percent of program costs in 1996, will likely pay at least 79 percent of program costs next year. By the following year, when the trust fund is nearly exhausted, taxpayers will foot virtually the entire bill. Former Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton all collected or supported reinstatement of the polluter-pays fees, but the Bush administration has expressed its opposition to reinstating the fees.

“Not only has the pace of cleanups slowed down dramatically in the past three years, but regular taxpayers are footing more and more of the bill for toxic cleanups,” said Isaac Bloom. “Instead of hiding information from the public, Congress and the Bush administration should reinstate Superfund’s polluter-pays fees to protect public health and make polluters pay for cleanups,” concluded Bloom.

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