The Bush Record On Toxic Waste
One in every four Americans lives within 3 miles of a toxic waste site. Congress passed the Superfund law in 1980 to protect public health and the environment by funding cleanup of the nation's worst toxic sites. The law requires polluters to pay for their contamination of land, and establishes a trust fund to clean up properties where the polluting company cannot be identified, or is unable to pay. Taxes on corporations that have historically generated the most toxic waste, such as oil and chemical companies, endowed the fund. Because this Superfund tax program has been allowed to expire, the fund is running out of cash. Instead of ensuring its continued operation by reinstating the corporate tax payments, President Bush is shifting toxic waste cleanup costs to the taxpaying public. As a result, the Administration has reduced cleanup resources by one-third to date. Bush has also cut by half the rate of site cleanups, and intends to slow the process even further.
The Bush Record
Under pressure from oil and chemical companies, Congress abandoned the "polluter pays" principle in 1995 by letting the corporate Superfund taxes expire. The fund dwindled from a high of $3.8 billion in 1996 to a projected $159 million at the end of 2003. Even though Presidents Reagan and Bush (senior) reauthorized the taxes, the current Bush Administration favors shifting the financial burden of the cleanup program to the general public. Since 1995, corporations have saved over $9 billion due to the expiration of the Superfund taxes, or roughly $4 million per day.
Since the Superfund program began in 1980, 1,560 sites have been put on the EPA's list of the most contaminated sites, with 263 sites cleaned up and 583 largely decontaminated. The Bush Administration projected that it would complete cleanups at 75 sites in 2001, but only finished forty-seven.
Under the Bush administration, the pace of Superfund cleanups has slowed. EPA finished only 42 site cleanups in 2002 and estimates 40 cleanup completions each in 2003 and 2004 - a rate 50% slower than the average during the last four years of the Clinton Administration. Proposals to designate new Superfund sites are down 15% compared with the annual average from 1993 through 2000; cleanup costs recovered directly from polluters fell 13%; and polluter penalties are down 41%.
Of the 42 Superfund sites cleaned up in 2002, many received last minute funding only after the Bush Administration was heavily criticized when EPA's Inspector General revealed that 33 Superfund sites hadn't received any federal funding. At the end of the year, the Inspector General reported that clean-ups at seven of these sites remained unfunded due to funding shortfalls in the Superfund program, despite warnings by regional EPA officials that the sites continue to pose serious environmental and health risks.
The Bush Administration has proposed legislation that further threatens public health by effectively exempting military bases and the defense industry from much of their liability for toxic waste cleanup. The Defense Department claims that these exemptions are necessary for proper training and military readiness. However, former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman testified before a U.S. Senate committee that she didn't "believe there is a training mission anywhere in the country that is being held up or not taking place because of environmental protection regulation." Nevertheless, Bush's political appointees at EPA supported the legislation over strong objections from their own staff that the bill would compromise EPA's ability protect the public.
Toxic byproducts of military uses can have potentially devastating health effects. For example, perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket and missile fuel found at many defense related sites, has contaminated drinking water supplies in at least 20 states. Recent studies suggest that much of the nation's supply of lettuce might be contaminated as well, through contact with perchlorate in irrigation water. Perchlorate is a powerful thyroid toxin that interferes with normal thyroid function and may cause cancer. Yet the Bush Administration is withholding information on the potential threat that perchlorate may pose to our health. A gag order imposed by the Administration prevented EPA scientists from publicly discussing the toxic chemical, and the White House Office of Management and Budget has barred any federal regulation of perchlorate until the National Academy of Sciences completes its own review, which could take 6 to 18 months.
How President Bush Misleads the Public
The Bush EPA is touting the Administration's proposed increase of $150 million for Superfund in the 2004 budget, for a total spending level of $1.4 billion. However, this increase is based on a comparison with the historically low funding levels of recent years. Funding in 2002 and 2003 was the lowest for Superfund since 1988. In the early 1990s, the Superfund program averaged $1.6 billion a year - about $2.1 billion in today's dollars. Today's $1.4 billion Superfund budget represents a 30% reduction in spending power from 1992 levels.
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