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Kryptonite for Superfund

It’s a hustle of grand proportions and deadly consequences. The House of Representatives will vote today on H.R. 2279, a bill that guts Superfund—the law that requires industries to handle their hazardous waste safely and clean up their toxic spills.

The bill strikes at the heart of the Superfund, which over the past three decades has allowed the EPA and other federal agencies to identify and clean up thousands of polluted sites across the country. The bill is so radically dangerous that the White House issued a statement asserting that H.R. 2279 could cause “significant site cleanup delays, endangering public health and the environment," and recommended the President veto the bill. More than120 public interest groups have also called for its defeat in a letter to Congress.

Why does House leadership want to eviscerate Superfund? A principle reason is to protect the coffers of polluting industries. H.R. 2279 would block the EPA from establishing rules to ensure that polluters cannot walk away from Superfund sites and leave American taxpayers to foot the bill. Companies have already defaulted on billions of dollars of cleanup costs at the most dangerous hazardous waste sites in the country.

This is a big deal when one in four Americans lives within three miles of a Superfund site. H.R. 2279 is the wrong bill at exactly the wrong time. The Superfund Trust Fund, which was once funded by taxes on petroleum and chemical companies—is exactly zero. Congressional appropriation for Superfund is currently at 40 percent of 1987 levels, yet there are still more than 1,300 sites on the National Priorities List, the list of the most toxic waste sites in the nation. The funding shortfall causes delays in cleanups—and consequently endangers millions of Americans. We cannot afford to weaken the Act to spare the industries responsible for the pollution.

H.R. 2279 is a con job of the highest order, allowing polluters to walk away without losing a penny, while taxpayers are left footing the bill. Superfund cleanups routinely run into the tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars. The coal ash cleanup in Kingston TN will cost over $1 billion.

It’s a bad time to be left without telephone booths, but we appreciate the White House standing in and hope that members of Congress will heed the clear warning and act today to protect the health and pocketbooks of their constituents by opposing H.R. 2279.