Velázquez Seeks to Reinstate Tax on Big Oil and Chemical Polluters
Measure Would Fund Cleanup of Superfund Sites
Washington, DC – Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) today announced new legislation to reinstate a tax on big oil and chemical companies to finance the cleanup of Superfund sites. In 1995, Congress let a tax on these companies expire, shifting the cost of Superfund cleanup at certain sites to taxpayers. Velázquez’s bill would reinstate the “Superfund tax” requiring industries that are most often linked to polluting these sites to pay for environmental remediation.
“It is outrageous to require ordinary citizens to foot the bill while big corporations profit from polluting our neighborhoods,” said Velázquez. “By allowing the Superfund tax to expire, Republicans in Congress pandered to the oil and chemical industries, letting them off the hook for dumping toxic waste into our communities.”
To earn Superfund status under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a site must be contaminated by hazardous waste and classified as a risk to human and environmental health—labeling it a priority for cleanup. An “orphaned” site is a Superfund site without responsible available or able parties to pay for cleanup, and thus requires the federal government’s assistance. Until 1995, Congress placed the Superfund tax on big oil and chemical companies to raise funds for cleaning up orphaned sites, however since the tax was allowed to expire, the burden has fallen to the taxpayer. Since Congress failed to renew the tax, taxpayers have spent over $21 billion to clean up Superfund sites. Velázquez’s bill, H.R. 5669, the Superfund Enhancement Act of 2018 would reinstate the Superfund tax and raise much needed revenue for toxic cleanup.
Of over 1,300 federally designated Superfund sites, approximately half are orphaned sites. Velázquez’s district contains three Superfund sites: the Gowanus Canal; Newtown Creek; and the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company.
“By establishing the Superfund program, the federal government made a pledge to improve the health and safety of our communities who have been plagued by toxic waste at the hands of reckless chemical companies,” said Velázquez. “In order to make serious strides in Superfund cleanup, we must raise adequate funding, and that starts by requiring big companies to pay their fair share.”
As the Trump Administration moves to slash environmental protections, Velázquez stressed the urgency of reinstating the Superfund tax. In his 2019 budget proposal, President Trump sought to cut over $2.5 billion or over 23 percent of the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“With their draconian budget cuts and regulatory rollbacks, the Trump Administration is the most dramatic threat to environmental protections in recent history,” said Velázquez. “Unless Congress acts, the cleanup of these sites will be kicked further down the road, leaving local families and business to continue to suffer.”
In addition to reinstating the Superfund tax, Velázquez’s bill would allocate a tax deduction of up to $10,000 for local small businesses relocate from a Superfund site. The bill would also make these businesses as well as homeowners, tenants and residents living on or adjacent to a Superfund site, eligible for Disaster and Economic Injury loans under the Small Business Administration (SBA).
“It is crucial that, in addition to funding Superfund cleanup, we support local businesses and community establishments,” said Velázquez. “To this point, my bill allocates more resources to help businesses located near a Superfund site.”
The Superfund Enhancement Act of 2018 has been endorsed by major environmental organizations and local community groups, including: Alaska Wilderness League; Natural Resources Defense Council; League of Conservation Voters; Sierra Club; Friends of the Earth; Appalachian Voices; New York League of Conservation Voters; the Wilderness League; Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG); Gowanus Alliance; Gowanus Canal Conservancy; Waterfront Alliance; New York Sun Works, Inc.; NYC H20; LESReady; UPROSE; Brooklyn Community Board 2, 6 and 7; and Manhattan Community Board 3.
In addition, the bill has been co-sponsored by 16 Members of Congress.
“Environmental crimes have been harming the health of our communities for decades, not just by poisoning public health, but by poisoning financial health too through the uprooting of small businesses occupying land polluted decades ago,” said Liz Perera, Climate Policy Director at the Sierra Club. “The Sierra Club applauds Representative Nydia Velázquez for her introduction of the Superfund Enhancement Act of 2018, which will hold big polluters accountable and help small businesses recover through equitable relocation solutions.”
“Rep. Velázquez’s legislation provides needed support for innocent small businesses who suffer because of the mishandling of toxics by responsible parties,” said Scott Slesinger, Legislative Director at Natural Resources Defense Council. “Along with reinstituting the polluter pays tax, this bill will improve and speed up the clean-up of these toxic sites.”
“The public health and economic consequences of Superfund site cleanups disproportionately affect low income communities and communities of color,” said League of Conservation Voters Legislative Representative Madeline Foote. “We are proud to endorse the Superfund Enhancement Act of 2018 because it would help ease the burden on small businesses in these communities caused by environmental disasters and would ensure that the oil and chemical industries start doing their part to finance the cleanup of these dangerous sites.”
Velázquez, a top advocate for Superfund cleanup in Congress, recently urged the federal government to provide more funding for Superfund cleanup. Velázquez’s environmental record has earned her a 100% score on the League of Conservation Voters 2017 scorecard. This year, the Congresswoman joined the House Committee on Natural Resources where she will continue to advocate for urgent environmental priorities.