An amendment to reinstate the “polluter-pays” principle on Superfund clean-up sites failed to gain enough votes in the Senate last week. Environmentalists are optimistic though that the idea enjoyed bi-partisan support and put additional pressure on the Bush administration to prioritize the health and safety of communities over the bottom lines of corporate polluters.
The amendment, cosponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and James Jeffords (I-VT), lost 43-53. The landmark Superfund program ran out of polluter-contributed funds last year, and the amendment would have relieved taxpayers of the significant financial burden of cleaning up abandoned toxic waste sites.
Already, one in four Americans, including ten million children, lives within four miles of a toxic waste site that is considered a Superfund cleanup priority. Once a site joins the Superfund list, it takes on average 11 years before the cleanup is complete. Without the polluter-funded trust fund, sites are forced to compete with other Superfund sites and the entire program competes with other federal environmental priorities.
The rate of completed cleanups has fallen by 50 percent during the Bush administration compared to the period between 1997 and 2000, and site listings have slowed down as well.