Make Polluters Pay: How public education and advocacy revived the polluter pays principle

Twenty-six years after citizens foot the bill for polluters tampering, Congress has passed a “polluter pays” tax on the production of hazardous chemicals, which will hold the polluting industry responsible for the cost of cleaning up the nation’s most dangerous toxic waste sites. An additional pollutant tax on oil production has also been put in place in the House of Representatives as part of the Build Better Act, which is expected to pass in the coming weeks.

These polluter taxes were originally intended to fund the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Toxic Waste Cleanup Program, which manages toxic waste sites requiring the most serious long-term cleanup. Toxic chemicals at these sites include arsenic, lead, dioxin, mercury, benzene, asbestos, and other dangerous chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, and other serious diseases. One recent study found that living near one of these sites was associated with a shorter lifespan. Since these taxes lapsed in 1995, the government has lost billions in revenue from polluting industries that create pollutants at these toxic waste sites and has had to rely increasingly on taxpayer revenue to cover the cost of cleanup.

However, the money from taxpayers could not make up for the shortfall. Without cash from a polluter paying taxes, the cleanup of toxic waste sites Superfund has slowed to a crawl over the past 20 years, leaving Americans at risk of serious disease for much longer. Of the more than 1,300 Superfund sites on the national priority list today, 78.5% have been on the list for more than 20 years. The backlog of sites awaiting funding increased to 38 last year, the largest number of unfunded cleanups ever.

The acute shortage of funding and the slow rate of clean-up did not go unnoticed; Since the taxes are gone, there has been support to bring them back. Almost every year, members of Congress in the House and Senate—most notably Rep. Frank Balloni, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Senator Cory Booker, and former Senator Frank Lautenberg—all introduce bills to bring back polluters to pay taxes, and create bipartisan coalitions to support their bills. Outside the halls of Congress, many national, state, and local environmental groups have advocated for the tax return.

Who is against these taxes? Chemical and oil industries that do not want to pay the cost of cleaning up the mess their industries are causing.

So, after 40 years of working to get the original Superfund legislation, Environment America partnered with our network of PIRG organizations across the country to launch our Make Polluter Pay campaign, building the power of citizens from across the country to persuade Congress to return polluter pays. taxes.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration identified re-polluting pays taxes as one of its main environmental goals. With the support of the administration, some of the major champions in the legislature, and our work to raise this issue into the public consciousness, we succeeded in moving the polluter tax on hazardous chemical production through the Senate in a bipartisan infrastructure bill, with a vote. from 69-30. This is a great victory, because it shows us that this logical idea is beyond the party. Today, the US House of Representatives confirmed that when it also approved this policy.

This is what we did:

  • We reported on the threat of toxic waste sites superfund and lack of funding that was slowing down the cleanup process and putting more people at risk, as well as the added threat of hurricanes when they hit toxic waste sites.

  • We held a webinar with expert panel members to educate people about the problem

  • We’ve made sure the public hears about the issue by publishing opinion pieces in major publications and speaking with the media – from podcast hosts to environmental reporters.

  • We’ve collected thousands of petition signatures to show members of Congress that their constituents want them to take action

  • We’ve worked with coalition partners and the legislative public who are interested in this issue and have made sure that our elected officials know that their constituents stand behind them on this matter.

Reimposing a pollutant tax on today’s hazardous chemical industry would mean fewer over-financed toxic waste sites threatening drinking water, soil and air. It will mean reducing the risk of cancer and other serious diseases for millions of Americans and giving them safer communities to live in.

While today represents an important step toward our goal of ensuring that polluters, not ordinary Americans, are held accountable for the cost of cleaning up pollution, this is not the end of our campaign. When Congress takes the Rebuilding Act better, they still have a chance to bring back another tax-paying polluter to fund the cleanup of toxic waste sites Superfund – a tax on the petroleum industry. We will continue to work to make sure our lawmakers do what’s right and make polluters pay.

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