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Tax for chemicals cleanup part of US infrastructure deal

Plan would reimpose levy to fund cleanup of toxic waste sites

by Cheryl Hogue
June 29, 2021


Photo shows a US Environmental Protection Agency sign on a chain-link fence reading "WARNING: Hazardous materials present at this site. No Tresspassing."
Credit: US EPA
Funds to clean up superfund sites have declined in recent decades.

The US chemical industry is lashing out against a tax on feedstock chemicals included in the tentative infrastructure deal hammered out by President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators.

Chemical manufacturers previously paid the tax to help fund the federal Superfund program for cleaning up toxic-waste sites, though Congress allowed the levy to expire in 1995. It would resume as part of the proposal, unveiled June 24, that sets goals for $1.2 trillion in infrastructure investment in transportation, the electrical grid, wastewater treatment, resilience to climate change, and pollution cleanup.

“We strongly oppose the reinstatement of Superfund chemical taxes, which would target all chemical manufacturers—and some other industries—regardless of whether there is a connection to a Superfund site,” says Chris Jahn, CEO of the largest US trade association of chemical manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council. Less than 2% of the nation’s 1,327 sites on the Superfund National Priorities List are associated with ACC member companies, and those firms are paying for cleanup of their sites, he says in a statement.

In terms of land area, the biggest sites on the Superfund list—and those facing some of the largest cleanup costs—are lands around abandoned hard-rock mining operations, according to the advocacy group Earthworks.

A recent analysis found that the rate of Superfund site cleanups has slowed as funding diminished over the last 20 years. The program, administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency, has a backup of for starting the cleanup of more than 30 sites.

The 1980 Superfund law, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, established the principle that polluters should pay for cleanup. It imposed the Superfund tax on feedstock chemicals, crude oil, and corporate income. The revenue from the tax paid for remediation of contaminated sites where those responsible for pollution were no longer in business, were insolvent, or couldn’t be identified.

In recent decades, Congress has appropriated money from general taxpayer funds to keep cleanups going, though the amount has declined during this century.



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