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Earl B.
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  • Superfund Sites

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2014-01-08

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    BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, when I saw that the legislative agenda for this week was going to deal with the beleaguered Superfund program, I was encouraged; but when I saw what my Republican colleagues actually proposed, I was saddened and disappointed.

    Across America, we are plagued by a variety of severely polluted hotspots known as ``Superfund sites.'' Many are the legacy of past reckless or clueless business behaviors; Government, itself, shares responsibility as well. Local governments failed to properly zone and regulate businesses with toxic byproducts. Sometimes government created problems with the way it operated sewer systems, solid waste management, and military operations.

    The Superfund law, created in 1980, with a Superfund tax on the petrochemical industry, which caused the problem, would provide cleanup funding. It was reasonable at that time, but it has been frozen in place for almost 20 years. In 1995, the excise tax expired. Neither the program nor the problems have gone away, and having fewer and fewer resources has not helped. Sadly, the proposals the House will be considering this week would actually reduce the overall amount of funding that is available, undercut standards, and slow cleanup.

    The Federal Government has created some of these problems, mostly caused by military operations, which is the largest single source of Superfund sites in the country, but there are also situations like the TVA and its coal ash disaster.

    Instead of enhancing the Federal commitment and capacity, this legislative exercise is an illustration of part of the problem. It is an attempt to look like we are doing something, but it has no chance of being enacted into law; and if it did, it would actually make the problem worse.

    It is time for us to renew and refine the Federal commitment, not to complicate and undercut it. We should take a performance-based approach to zero in on what will actually accelerate cleanup in a demonstrable fashion and be able to move away from what has too often been a pro forma response.

    The Federal Government should, indeed, clean up after itself and not leave the problem behind. The military should place Superfund cleanup as a higher priority in its budgeting. We have seen recent studies about pollution around military bases, like Camp Lejeune, that has had a severe impact on military families and their neighbors, linking contamination to a series of birth defects like spina bifida and to childhood cancers, including leukemia.

    We should renew the Superfund tax, which I will be introducing in legislation this month. The Federal budget allocations should commit to cleanup, not passing the buck. We have settled into a program of sue, stall, and study as the inevitable result of a failure to work together to clean up, to protect the public, and to save money in the long run. I hope we will reject the Republican proposal this week and, instead, make a renewed commitment to find ways to make it work better.


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