A bill in the U.S. Senate aims to provide money to clean up environmental sites throughout the country, and local activists said that could include a Clark County barrel fill with more than 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste.
But opponents say the proposal is a blanket tax that could hurt small businesses.
The legislation, called the Superfund Polluter Pays Restoration Act of 2014, would reinstate the “polluter pays” tax that expired in 1995, according to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. The legislation would tax polluting industries to pay for cleanups.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing June 10 and discussed the proposal.
While funding continues to decrease to clean up Superfund sites, more people are exposed to them, Booker said. About 11 million people, including 3 to 4 million children, live one mile from a Superfund site, which is typically described as an area heavily contaminated with hazardous substances.
“Across our country, we have far too many unremediated, dangerous Superfund sites sitting in our neighborhoods, properties that are literally poisoning our residents,” Booker said in his testimony.
Responsible parties should pay for the cleanup at Superfund sites, but a blanket tax affecting all waste-generating businesses, including small businesses with revenues over $2 million, shouldn’t be imposed, said U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., at the hearing.
“Superfund sites need to be cleaned up. There’s no question about that,” Inhofe said. “But the cleanup process needs to happen in the most cost-effective and fair way possible.”
The U.S. EPA is pursuing placing the 8.5-acre Tremont City Barrel Fill in northern Clark County — currently a U.S. EPA Superfund Alternative site — on the National Priorities List, which would allow for federal and state money to be used to clean up the site. The goal is to have it listed within the next year.
“It’s a step to try to have access to the fund to pay for the cleanup, but we understand there’s no money in there to pay for the cleanup,” said Marilyn Welker of People for Safe Water, a local activist group.
If the legislation is passed, Welker said, the U.S. EPA will have greater access to money to clean up the site properly.
“It gives them more authority and gives them access to money if it does get listed,” Welker said.
Local officials have worked for years to change the remediation plan at the barrel fill, a closed landfill for industrial waste barrels that contains about 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste.
All local agencies want the barrels removed from the site, but the U.S. EPA has ruled in favor of a different clean-up plan that will cost significantly less: Dig up all of the barrels, remove the ones with liquid waste, add a liner and put the barrels filled with solid waste back in place.
Officials believe rainwater draining through the barrels could eventually contaminate drinking water as the barrel fill sits near the city’s aquifer. Any leakage could pose a risk to public health decades from now, officials said.
In 2010, area leaders believed the U.S. EPA would adopt a $56 million plan that would remove all of the waste from the site.
In 2011 the U.S. EPA selected a $28 million approach that calls for digging up the barrels, extracting the liquid waste and then reburying the solid waste on-site in a lined landfill.
Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, is known for helping create the Superfund program in the 1980s. She recently visited Springfield to work with People for Safe Water.
In her testimony at the June 10 hearing, she spoke about how the cleanup decision at the Tremont City Barrel Fill was changed.
“Why did they do this? Because EPA gets a responsible party to pay for the inadequate cleanup, because it doesn’t have enough funds to support the proper protective cleanup and later charge the responsible parties,” Gibbs said.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement he believes parties found responsible for creating hazardous waste sites should be held accountable for the cleanup and wants the U.S. EPA to work collaboratively with local communities to develop cleanup plans for hazardous waste sites.
“Sen. Portman actively supports cleanup efforts for the Tremont City Barrel Fill site and endorsed the U.S. EPA’s proposal in April to place the site on the Superfund National Priorities List, opening it up to additional federal resources,” said Michael Haidet, Portman’s press secretary.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement he will take a close look at any proposal that will quickly clean up and redevelop contaminated properties.
“Taxpayers should not be on the hook for cleaning up after polluters,” he said. “When industrial sites are decommissioned, it’s crucial that proper cleanup and waste management practices are used to ensure the site is primed for redevelopment. Local communities should not be saddled with the burden of cleaning up these sites.”
The U.S. EPA has “very troubled” relationships with both the community and the Ohio EPA, according to a draft of a facilitator’s obtained by the Springfield News-Sun earlier this year. The level of conflict is high and the level of trust is low, the report says.
After the report was published, Joan Tanaka, branch manager for the U.S. EPA Region 5 Superfund program, visited Springfield in April to discuss improving communications with the community.
People for Safe Water will push for the U.S. EPA to involve the community in any decision, Welker said. It also will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at the German Twp. office.
“We have to keep building public awareness and public pressure to say ‘We want that dug up, we want it trucked out and we want our water protected’,” Welker said.
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