The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Superfund Rip-Off

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted July 9, 2010

Whoever wrote the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent news release calling for the reinstatement of the Superfund tax deserves an award for clever--and very misleading--writing.

The release states that if the Superfund tax were reinstated, polluters would have to pay for their messes and money would no longer be transferred from the General Fund, "thus burdening the taxpayer with the costs of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites."

Quoting an EPA official, the release also says:

"Our taxes should be paying teachers, police officers and infrastructure that is essential for sustainable growth--not footing the bill for polluters."

There's no question that polluters should be held responsible for their errors. But the news release plays fast-and-loose with the facts.

  • First, the tax dollars used to pay for Superfund cleanups always have come from the General Fund. There never has been a "lock box" where Superfund tax receipts were held and used strictly for cleaning up abandoned waste sites. Cleanup funds must be appropriated annually by Congress, regardless of whether the Superfund tax is reinstated.
  • Reinstatement of the Superfund tax, which expired at the end of 1995, is unnecessary because polluters continue to pay more than 70 percent of the cleanups, according to EPA.
  • A wide range of individuals, businesses and government agencies are responsible for the pollution at the remaining 30 percent of so-called "orphan" sites. Because abandoned sites are considered a societal problem, Congress appropriately funds the cleanups from general revenues.
  • The Superfund taxes improperly targeted the petroleum industry. Prior to their expiration, the oil and natural gas industry paid 57 percent of the taxes, but according to EPA, its share of the liability was less than 10 percent.

The Superfund tax is not a tax on polluters. It was levied on many companies and industries, many of which never caused any contamination. Rather, it is a direct tax on business and an indirect tax on consumers.

Plus, there is no correlation between the level of funding that goes toward cleaning up Superfund sites and the collection of the tax revenues. Congressional appropriations for the Superfund program have remained stable, signaling that the tax isn't necessary to fund cleanups.

In short, the Superfund tax is a slight-of-hand maneuver that takes money from the economy and puts it in the government's hands with little, if any, accountability.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.