We Have a Unique Chance to Clean Up Our Most Dangerous Toxic Waste Sites | Opinion

By Frank Pallone, Jr. and Doug O’Malley

For four decades, one of the New Jersey Superfund toxic sites, Imperial Oil Co., Inc./Champion Chemicals (IOC / CC), was on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund Cleanup List. . For years, the operations of the chemical treatment plant have contaminated the surrounding soil and groundwater. Then, after the company went bankrupt, the Monmouth County site became an orphan cleanup site, that is, when the party responsible for the pollution no longer exists or cannot afford the cost of the cleanup. cleaning.

Superfund sites like this are contaminated with toxic substances that end up in the air, drinking water, streams and rivers, backyards, playgrounds and streets of neighboring communities. Neighborhoods affected by these sites may face restrictions on water and land use, as well as economic losses when property values ​​decline due to their proximity. With 113 toxic waste sites across the state, New Jersey has the most Superfund sites in the country.

The EPA’s Superfund program was founded over 40 years ago to clean up these toxic sites by levying a tax on industries to fund clean-up of sites without a responsible party. The taxes collected were placed in a Superfund Trust Fund which was widely used for cleaning up orphan sites. A Republican Congress authorized the expiration of polluter pays taxes in 1995, shifting the financial burden of cleaning up these sites to taxpayers.

Without this revenue, Superfund’s cleanups were delayed and the backlog of sites requiring cleanup increased. Over the past two decades, the pace of cleanups across the country and here in New Jersey has slowed. With climate-induced natural disasters worsening and sea level rise, there is a growing urgency to address this backlog and clean up New Jersey’s most dangerous waste sites. Hurricanes and inland flooding are becoming more severe, as we saw recently when Hurricane Ida flooded a New Jersey Superfund site and threatened neighboring communities with dangerous chemicals.

Over the next 20 years in the United States, more than 800 Superfund toxic waste sites are at risk of flooding. Many of these sites are on the east coast, where sea levels are rising rapidly. This is why we are fighting for legislation that would reinstate the Superfund tax and ensure that polluters, not taxpayers, pay for the cleanup.

Fortunately, Democrats and the Biden administration are leading the way in moving forward on this front: The bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress recently passed and President Biden enacted reinstates the Superfund tax on chemical companies. The Build Back Better Act that Democrats in the House of Representatives passed in November reinstates the tax on oil and gas companies. These polluter pays taxes would inject money into the languid Superfund program and help clean up the more than 1,300 toxic waste sites across the country.

Communities in New Jersey have been exposed to toxic waste pollution for far too long. We must hold the chemical and petroleum industries accountable for the cost of cleaning up their own pollution to return to the original promise of the Superfund program.

At New Jersey’s toxic waste sites, new funding means we won’t have to wait decades of lawsuits against polluting companies to settle before we begin cleanup. When the EPA pays the costs, it won’t have to spread its scarce resources across hundreds of sites. Polluting industries, rather than individual US taxpayers, will foot the bill for the toxic pollution caused by their industries.

By reinstating these two critical polluter-pays taxes, New Jersey could have the funds to complete the full clean-up of toxic sites, tear down the fences that isolate these polluted lands from our communities, and fully remedy their environmental damage. The promise of the Superfund program was to do just that – and with the bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Infrastructure Law and Build Back Better Act, we are on the cusp of finally fulfilling its commitment to hold polluters accountable for the damage they do. they speak.

Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. represents the 6th Congressional District of New Jersey and is the Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Doug O’Malley is the state director of Environment New Jersey, a citizen environmental organization.

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