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WHY THE SUPERFUND PORK BARREL ..DESERVES A VETO.
As Congress prepares for the October recess, lawmakers have just
rushed through a $9-billion Superfund reauthorization bill.
Although its d efenders try to present the Superfund
reauthorization as decisive action by Congress to address a matter
of urgent national importance, the legislation is in fact one of
the worst examples of budget-busting pork barrel politics in recent
history. And in t h eir haste to create this lucrative source of
local public works projectst lawmakers have also established a
whole new category of business "surtaxes" designed to raise over
$2.7 billion, and a further $2.75 billion in taxes on the
hard-pressed petroleum i n dustry. It is hard to imagine a bill
more deserving of a presidential veto than this ill-considered
measure, which has much to do with narrow political interests, and
very little to do with the public interest. Although there is a
general consensus on the need to have the- federal government
assist in the clean-up of abandoned hazardous waste sites, there
are in fact only a very small number of toxic waste dumps that pose
an urgent and expensive problem. Yet the proponents of the
legislation give the impre s sion that the whole country is awash
with dangerous chemicals, dumped by unknown polluters. In fact, in
most instances the parties responsible for the hazardous wastes are
known, and can be required to spend their own money to ensure that
the wastes do no t leak into the environment--in accordance with
the "polluter' pays" principle which traditionally has guided
environmental policy in the United States. The new Superfund bill,
however, would abandon this longstanding and just concept and tax
corporations a s though all were guilty. The Environmental
Protection Agency has testified before Congress that it could not
efficiently spend the money Congress wants to give it. There simply
are not enough engineers, construction firms with appropriate
skills, and sci entists to manage such enormous outlays. That means
the program is destined to result in waste and abuse--a sad
testament to-the lack of congressional determination to control
The pork barrel nature of the legislation is enhanced by the
vague definitions it employs in determining just which sites would
qualify for Superfund financing. The terms "abandoned" and
"hazardous" are defined in a way that makes their meaning open to
br o ad interpretation. This means that any state or local
government wishing to avoid the costs of finding a polluter or of
cleaning up a local dumpsite would have the incentive simply to
declare the dump an "abandoned hazardous waste site" and lay claim
to " free" federal money. Thus the bill would discourage the
decisive local action needed to end the general problem of
The new bill would also create a dangerous precedent by
establishing several new taxes to finance thi pork barrel program.
A mong the worst is a profits and earnings tax, which would be
assessed on most manufacturing firms. The tax is expected to raise
$2.7 billion initially, by providing a new mechanism to extract
money from American corporations, adding to the corporate tax b u
rden imposed under the new tax law. But it would also open the door
to future tax increases to finance additional spending projects.
Moreover, Superfund taxes on the petroleum industry would rise over
a five-year period from the current $200 million to $2 .75 billion.
As part of this tax increase, the bill would impose an oil'import
Despite the attempts of Superfund extension proponents to
portray a veto as an attack on the environment, it would in fact be
a blow against the pork barrel disguised in e nvironmental
clothing. The President should make clear to the Congress that he
will not gave in to their attempts to blackmail him by portraying
the Administration as anti-environment. He should not hesitate to
veto the bill, and issue a public demand tha t Congress come back
instead with a bill more in keeping both with his earlier $5.3
billion request and with the true dimensions of the problem.
Milton R. Copulos Senior Policy Analyst
F or further information-
"Toxic Superfund Waste," The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 1986.
Nfilton R. Copulos, "The Many Hazards of a Mega-Superf und,"
Heritage Foundation Backarounder No. 440, June 10, 1985.