Senator Bob Smith, 17th Legislative District
Last Spring, the Bush administration indicated that it would not support re-authorization the Superfund tax, thus hampering the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to properly and safely clean up toxic waste disposal sites. With 111 designated Superfund sites in New Jersey, the highest in the nation, this is a dangerous policy change for the people of New Jersey and will potentially be extremely costly to New Jersey taxpayers. This will have the double edged effect of reducing the number of designated Superfund sites and requiring taxpayers to foot more of the bill.
The Superfund Tax was established in 1980 for the purpose of sharing the cost of cleaning up toxic waste sites that could not be attributed to any one polluter. Polluting industries, specifically oil and chemical companies, collectively pay the tax, which then goes towards providing the bulk of the funding for toxic waste clean up projects. Thus far, the Superfund tax has been used to clean up about 30 percent of the 1,551 sites nationwide that have been placed on the EPA’s national priority list.
However, fewer and fewer sites are being cleaned up because without the tax on industry, the fund is shrinking. It has gone from a high of $3.8 billion in 1996 to an estimated $28 million next year. While taxpayers payers paid more than half of the costs for cleaning up Superfund sites last year, if this new proposal goes into effect, taxpayers will be paying 100% of the costs by 2004.
Limiting the number of sites able to be cleaned will have a significant impact on our region. The good news is that the Chemsol, Inc., site in Piscataway will continue to be funded and cleaned up. At the same time, sites in nearby towns such as Edison, Bound Brook and Old Bridge, will not be cleaned up anytime soon. Tellingly, rabbits found near the old Agent Orange plant in Edison have acquired a greenish hue attributable to toxins released from that facility. These sites have been sitting idle and contaminating our environment for too long.
Cleaning up chemical waste is a public health necessity and not something that should fall victim to irresponsible Washington politics. Any kindergardener will tell you that if you make a mess, you have to clean it up. Shifting the cost burden from the polluting industries responsible for creating the toxic waste to the taxpayers is neither fair nor sound public policy. Not only will the costs to taxpayers increase, but fewer sites will be cleaned up. This poses an unacceptable public health risk for the people of New Jersey.
My colleagues in the legislature and I have introduced a resolution calling on the Bush administration and congressional leadership to reinstate the superfund tax. While I hope that the federal government heeds to our concerns, I encourage all New Jersey citizens to call or write your congressional representatives, senators and the president, letting them know that the continuation of the Superfund program is important to everyone in New Jersey. Only by working together can we make New Jersey a better, safer, and healthier state.
Bob Smith is a State Senator representing Piscataway, New Brunswick, Highland Park, Franklin Township, North Brunswick and Milltown. He is a member of the Senate Environment and Judiciary Committees and has served as a member of the legislature since 1986.