EPA Short on Funds for Superfund Cleanup in NJ
WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency can’t move forward with cleaning up several Superfund sites in New Jersey and elsewhere because it doesn’t have the money, an EPA administrator told U.S. senators Tuesday.
More money would let the EPA not only tackle more cleanups but finish the jobs more quickly, said Judith Enck, EPA administrator for New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight tribal nations.
“If there is not an increase in funding, Superfund is super slow,” said Enck, testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight. “We want to pick up the pace, because when we pick up the pace it means there’s a greater level of public health protection and greater opportunity for redevelopment at these sites.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., held the hearing — his first as chairman of the subcommittee — to examine how to speed cleanup at Superfund sites and how communities are affected by delays. The Superfund program’s National Priorities List identifies 1,319 sites slated for long-term cleanup, and 114 are in New Jersey. That’s more than in any other state.
“When they’re not cleaned up, contaminated properties are blights on our American neighborhoods,” Booker said. “But when these sites are cleaned up, the opportunities flow for job creation, new tax revenues and most importantly, for healthier communities.”
Among the sites were cleanup has been delayed by a lack of funds, according to Eck, is the former South Jersey Clothing Co. property at Central and Atlantic avenues in Minotola.
Booker and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on Monday visited the Syncon Resins Superfund Site in Kearny, where hazardous chemicals are in the soil and groundwater. The EPA has already spent $21 million on cleanup but Enck said it needs $24 million more to dig out contaminated soil and demolish buildings on the site.
“I can’t tell you what the timeline is to finish the job,” she said.
The same goes for Sayreville’s Horseshoe Road site, a former chemical processing site that produced coal tar, asbestos, sealants and pesticides. The EPA has spent $46.5 million cleaning up that site and the nearby Atlantic Resources Corp. site, but the agency needs $34 million more, Enck said.
Other sites wher cleanup is delayed include Radiation Technology in Rockaway and Garfield Chromium Groundwater Contamination in Garfield.
The Superfund program requires the parties responsible for contamination at a site to clean it up. When that isn’t possible, it uses government money. A 2010 Government Accountability Office report found EPA doesn’t have adequate resources to clean up Superfund sites. According to Booker, funding in 2013 and 2014 for the Superfund program was at the lowest levels in more than 20 years.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal requested $43 million more for the program along with additional funds for emergency cleanup.
On Monday, Booker and Menendez said they would introduce legislation to reinstate “polluter pays” taxes, which expired in December 1995. The Obama administration has proposed reinstating the taxes on crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and imported substances — and on a percentage of income earned by large corporations — to ensure a dedicated source of revenue for the program and increase the pace of Superfund cleanup. Without the taxes, the program has been largely financed by general fund transfers, paid for by taxpayers.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the Oversight Subcommittee’s top-ranking Republican, objected to the surtax on corporations, which aren’t always polluters. He said the EPA hasn’t identified a single responsible party that did not ultimately pay its share of remedial costs at a Superfund site.
“To increase the effectiveness of the Superfund program, the EPA needs to be doing more with less,” he said. “The agency needs to trim its cost of administering the program so that more funds are freed up for cleanup work.”
Robert Spiegel, president of the Edison Wetlands Association, said it’s “curious” that there’s always plenty of money to wage war, but “there’s never a dime in our budget” for environmental protection.
“I just think that our priorities are backwards here,” he said. “This is a direct threat to our national security in towns and cities across our country.”