For The Cost Of a Few Cupcakes…

Big polluters surely can pay to clean up their own sites

This page was published 13 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

On Dec. 11 the federal Superfund program turns 30. Which means? Time for cupcakes!

Actually, the cupcakes arrived early — on Wednesday — when environmental groups including Earthjustice delivered the treats to lawmakers on the Hill with this request: reinstate “polluter pays” fees in time for the birthday.

The federal program funding cleanups at toxic sites began on Dec. 11, 1980, when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation creating the Superfund program.

For 15 years, the government imposed fees on companies that went into a fund to clean up the worst toxic sites in the country. These fees expired in 1995 and the fund fully depleted in 2003. Since then, the federal government has appropriated taxpayer dollars every year. One of those fees – the Corporate Environmental Income Tax – was paid by companies with $ 2 million or more in profits. That amounted to $12 on every $10,000 – or the price of a few cupcakes.

But along with the cupcakes, representatives of Earthjustice also delivered a photograph of the Rasmussen Ridge Mine site. It’s one of 17 phosphate mines in southeast Idaho that require cleanup under Superfund because of the release of deadly amounts of selenium to streams and groundwater.

For decades, these mines have contaminated formerly pristine streams and have killed or injured fish, birds, wildlife and domestic livestock.  These are just a few of the thousands of sites that put the environment and public health at risk from toxic contamination.  Many of the sites are not being cleaned up because of a lack of funding.

Reinstating these “polluter pays” fees has multiple benefits: it’s the most equitable way to finance the Superfund program, it’ll allow for cleanup at hundreds of languishing toxic sites, and it’ll take the burden off of taxpayers.


Raviya was a press secretary at Earthjustice in the Washington, D.C. office from 2008 to 2014, working on issues including federal rulemakings, energy efficiency laws and coal ash pollution.