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White House won't tax corporations for Superfund cleanup

From Major Garrett

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has told Congress it will not ask for taxes on businesses to pay for federal toxic waste cleanups, as the Clinton administration had unsuccessfully tried to do since 1995.

In its fiscal year 2003 budget request recently sent to Capitol Hill, the Bush administration said it has no intention of asking Congress to reauthorize corporate taxes used to finance toxic waste cleanups since the passage of the Superfund Act in 1980. The White House's budget request the previous fiscal year did not mention the issue.

A congressional Democrat criticized the White House's decision, saying it let corporate polluters "off the hook."

Cleanup funds from corporations have been dwindling ever since the laws authorizing the taxes that support the trust fund expired in 1995. The Republican-controlled Congress had rebuffed former President Clinton's annual efforts to renew the Superfund taxes.

The Bush administration spelled out the decision not to follow Clinton's lead and try to renew the Superfund taxes in its budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has identified waste sites and coordinated cleanup efforts for the last two decades.

A response to dormant toxic waste sites like the one discovered in Love Canal, New York in 1978  
Created to identify and clean up the worst toxic waste sites, both urgent and long-term  
$1.6 billion trust find authorized in 1980, increased to $8.5 billion in 1986  
Pursues potentially responsible parties in court to recover cleanup costs  
Had completed cleanup work on 757 sites as of December 2000  
Listed 1,222 sites on its National Priorities List as of January 29, 2002  

As with previous Superfund debates, Democrats said that corporations should help pay for toxic waste cleanups.

"You're letting the corporations who soiled the environment off the hook," said David Sirota, a spokesman for the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin. "When you shift the cost of cleanup to taxpayers, you are taking away funds that could be used for other things, like enforcement of environmental regulations."

The administration shares the concern of many congressional Republicans, who have long said the Superfund program wastes money on lengthy litigation over who is responsible for toxic sites. The GOP leadership has also opposed taxing the chemical and petrochemical industries to pay for the cleanup of toxic waste sites caused by other polluters.

Trent Duffy, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the White House will consider reinstating the industry taxes if Congress agrees to "fundamentally reform" the Superfund program.

The Bush fiscal year 2003 budget shows rapidly dwindling federal resources for Superfund cleanups -- with $860 million available for these purposes in 2001, $427 million in 2002 and $28 million in 2003. The documents also do not show any collections of excise or corporate tax revenue in 2002 or 2003.

But not all copies of the Bush budget, which is published in many forms, indicate the White House's opposition to corporate taxes to help pay for cleanups or the dwindling of available Superfund resources. One of the most-read copies, which contains highlights of the Bush budget and uses color pictures and graphs, touts the administration's commitment to the Superfund program.

"Where groundwater is contaminated, wells are dug and the water is treated," this copy of the budget says. "Where soil is toxic, it is removed and safely disposed. The goal is to make the site useful again."


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