Trump Needs To Keep His Promise To Superfund

Lois Gibbs Our Future

The New York State Commissioner of Health issued an order of evacuation of pregnant women and children under the age of two living in the Love Canal Neighborhood.”

That was on August 2, 1978, when the first emergency action was taken to evacuate families from Love Canal – my neighborhood – in Niagara Falls, New York.  Dangerous chemicals were leaking throughout our community from a 20,000-ton chemical dumpsite, causing birth defects, miscarriages and cancer.

Five days later, Governor Hugh Carey visited Love Canal, and President Carter declared a federal health emergency. Ultimately, the government helped move over 800 families, and our activism led to the creation of Superfund to clean up and protect communities like ours from toxic pollution.

The Love Canal crisis helped give birth to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund program, and the modern environmental protection movement. 

But today, 41 years after the nation first heard the cries for help from the people living near Love Canal, our country is moving backwards. Our government is not keeping its promise to clean up communities affected by toxic waste. This is ironic, because Trump has long claimed cleaning up Superfund sites is a priority for his administration. 

Superfund’s cornerstone principle was that the “polluter pays.”  President Jimmy Carter signed the Superfund bill with this in mind, knowing thousands of polluted communities around the country would need resources to eliminate public exposure to toxic chemicals. Cleanup would be funded by a tax on the industries that use these toxic chemicals.  

This tax on chemical uses provided a financial incentive for corporations to use safer chemicals, and find ways to recycle or send their wastes to other companies for reuse. It also provided funds to clean up sites that were abandoned when a corporation closed or from the legacy disposal of wastes.

The original Superfund bill passed in 1980 with bipartisan support – and this consensus worked well for 20 years, under Presidents Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and, for a while, under President Clinton.

But lobbying pressure by the chemical and petroleum industries led Congress to allow the “polluter pays” tax to expire in 1995. Superfund went bankrupt in 2003, and the entire financial burden of cleaning up the worst toxic sites then fell solely on American taxpayers.

Today, 53 million people live within three miles of a Superfund site. Forty-six percent of them are people of color, and 15 percent of them live below the poverty line.

At 121 of the 1,300 current Superfund sites, people live with unrestricted exposure to unsafe levels of contaminants. At another 187 of them, there is nothing in place to prevent pollutants from seeping into groundwater.

President Trump and his EPA chiefs have repeatedly claimed that Superfund is a priority program for his administration. But as the person often referred to as the “mother of Superfund,” I’m not convinced.

How can Superfund be a priority if you cut its budget without advocating for the Superfund tax to be reinstated? Clearly with less money, the cleanup of “orphan sites,” those that can’t be assigned to a responsible corporation with assets, becomes impossible.

Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first EPA administrator, promised he was moving forward to tackle the “low-hanging fruit” of toxic waste cleanup. By this, he meant starting to clean up places where environmental and public health assessments had already been completed by past administrations, and a cleanup plan had been designed. 

It also means that the administration prioritized sites for cleanup where responsibility could clearly assigned to active corporations with assets, and so could be held legally responsible.

That’s all great – as polluters should certainly pay to clean up their toxic messes. But environmental cleanup under this administration is going to hit a wall soon unless the “polluter pays” tax is reinstated.

There are almost no funds made available by the EPA to assess the environmental and health risks of toxic waste sites – especially orphan sites. There are even less funds made available for cleanup of these sites, or funds to support legal actions so those affected by toxic wastes can force the corporations that dumped them to clean them up.

Superfund sites are never islands unto themselves. More often than not, Superfund sites are connected to – or lurking underneath, as was the case with my home at Love Canal – family backyards, fence lines, drinking water sources and schools.

At the time the “Polluter Pays” tax expired in 1995, there were $4 billion dollars in Superfund. That was enough for the EPA to continue to move forward, fully cleaning up sites to protect public health, then go after responsible parties for reimbursements.  Superfund is now broke, so this is no longer the case.

Dozens of polluted communities are at risk, and more are added every day.  What, for example, will happen to Minden, West Virginia that was recently added to the Superfund National Priority List? The corporate entity responsible for its pollution went out of business a long time ago.

How will the EPA pay for testing, cleanup and the relocation of families away from the PCBs throughout Minden and other communities like it?

Or where will the funds come from to assess and clean up the Copper Bluff Mine in northern California? This abandoned site is located on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. The mines discharge heavy metals, which drain into the Trinity River, a culturally significant fishing location for the tribe.

President Trump and his current EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, have no answers to these questions. They throw up their hands. “Sorry, Superfund,” is all they say.

So it’s time for lawmakers to step up to the plate, and introduce legislation to reinstate the Polluter Pays tax. And if President Trump truly wants to keep his promise to the American people of making Superfund a priority program, he should champion this tax, so he can follow through and keep his word.

Promises kept, Mr. President?


Reposted from Our Future

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Campaign for America's Future

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work