Statement: Climate deal would reinstate much needed ‘polluter pays’ tax on oil industry

Media Contacts
Emily Rogers

Former Zero Out Toxics, Advocate, PIRG

Taran Volckhausen

Former Communications Associate, The Public Interest Network

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia have reached a deal on a reconciliation bill that, among major climate and energy efficiency provisions, includes an oil excise tax to fund Superfund toxic waste site cleanups nationwide. If passed, this bill would reinstate one of several “polluter pays” taxes that was allowed to lapse 26 years ago. The EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up the country’s most hazardous waste sites. 

One in six Americans lives within three miles of a proposed or listed Superfund toxic waste site, potentially increasing their risk of cancer, heart and respiratory problems and other serious illnesses. To make matters worse, severe climate-induced natural disasters such as hurricanes threaten to flood Superfund sites and spread contamination into nearby communities.

When Congress established the Superfund in 1980, most of the program’s funding came from an excise tax on petroleum and chemical manufacturers. In 1995, Congress failed to pass legislation to renew the tax and the cost burden fell to taxpayers. Currently, there are 1,333 sites on the National Priorities List, which are located in nearly all 50 states. Of these sites, 78.5% have been on the list for more than 20 years. 

Since these taxes lapsed in 1995, the Superfund program languished because it lacked funding. President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package, signed into law last year, reauthorized the polluter pays tax on chemical companies. But reinstating the tax on the oil industry, which contributes significantly to the pollution found at many Superfund sites, is needed to fully fund the program.

U.S. PIRG Zero Out Toxics Advocate Emily Rogers issued the following statement:

“For too long, polluting companies have shirked their responsibility for cleaning up toxic waste, unfairly shifting the burden onto the American taxpayer. We made big strides forward with the reinstatement of the polluter pays tax on chemical companies earlier this month. Now, Congress needs to finish the job by reinstating the polluter pays tax on petroleum companies. Reinstating the polluter pays tax on the oil industry means that polluters, rather than American taxpayers, will be held responsible for funding the Superfund program. By fully funding the Superfund program through these taxes, we can ensure that the EPA has the resources it needs to quickly and safely clean up the United States’ most hazardous and dangerous toxic waste sites and renew our nation’s commitment to health and environmental safety over any industry’s bottom line.”