Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Without Superfund Tax, Stimulus Aids Cleanups"

From the New York TImes:

VINELAND, N.J. — The Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most contaminated industrial sites was established nearly 30 years ago on the principle that those responsible for toxic pollution should pay for it.

So why is the government spending $600 million in stimulus money to work on sites like the defunct arsenic-fouled Vineland Chemical Company plant here in South Jersey?

Environmental Protection Agency officials and environmentalists say the Superfund program has been chronically underfinanced since a tax that supported it expired in 1995.

What is more, the old Vineland plant, like hundreds of other toxic dumps, is a so-called orphan site, meaning that either no responsible party has been found or money from the original polluter has been exhausted. So the taxpayer is on the hook for the remedial work.

Vineland’s former owners, now deceased, paid $3 million toward a cleanup that began a decade ago and has already cost more than $120 million. The site will get $10 million to $25 million in stimulus money to speed a continuing project to purge arsenic and other chemicals from soil and water on the site’s 54 acres.

Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the E.P.A., said the use of stimulus money would accelerate progress at 50 Superfund sites in 28 states, including eight abandoned industrial sites in New Jersey and two on Long Island.

“Under the Recovery Act,” Ms. Jackson said, using the formal term for the stimulus package, “we’re getting harmful pollutants and dangerous chemicals out of these communities and putting jobs and investment back in.”

Ronald Naman, the E.P.A. manager for the Vineland site, said the new money would create or save about 20 jobs and allow the current phase of the cleanup to be completed in as little as two years rather than four. As Mr. Naman spoke, three large earth-moving machines were scooping muck out of the Blackwater Branch creek, piling it up to dry so the toxic chemicals could be removed and shipped to landfills.

Mr. Naman said arsenic in soil and water from the company’s pesticide operations still posed a threat to human health and would take years to remedy. The agency, working with private contractors, has processed billions of gallons of tainted water and millions of pounds of polluted soil over the past several years.

Until 1995, cleanups at orphan sites like Vineland were paid in part from a trust fund based on taxes from polluting industries. But that year, the Republican-run Congress, responding to industry complaints, refused to reauthorize the Superfund tax, which once collected hundreds of millions of dollars a year from chemical and oil companies.

President Obama wants to restore the tax and assumes it will provide $1 billion in revenues for his 2011 budget...

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