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Energy Companies May Be Taxed To Help Pay For Superfund Sites

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to reinstate a tax on energy companies to pay for environmental disasters cleaned through the federal Superfund program.
 
BY HAILEY R. BRANSON    
Published: June 22, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to reinstate a tax on oil and gas companies to pay for environmental disasters cleaned through the federal Superfund program.

The EPA on Monday called for Congress to reinstate the tax, which lapsed in 1995. If done, the tax would in part place a 9.7-cent per barrel excise tax on crude oil or refined oil products.
Energy companies are condemning the effort, saying they shouldn't be forced to pay for sites in which they play no role.

"Our objective is to avoid situations that would require Superfund,” said Chip Minty, a spokesman for Devon Energy based in Oklahoma City. "Protecting the environment is extremely important to our company, and that goes beyond Superfund dollars or even the EPA.”
The Superfund program was established in 1980 to clean up the nation's most hazardous contaminated areas. There are 1,279 sites on the National Priorities List. There are eight sites in Oklahoma on the list.

For 15 years, oil and chemical companies and others were taxed by the federal government and the money placed into a cleanup trust fund. The EPA tries to identify parties responsible for pollution at Superfund sites and compel them to pay for cleanup. Sites where no responsible parties could be found or where companies would not pay were cleaned with money from the fund.

But in 2003, the fund was depleted, and taxpayers have since funded the cleanup of sites where responsible parties could not be found.

"Our taxes should be paying for teachers, police officers and infrastructure that is essential for sustainable growth — not footing the bill for polluters,” Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, wrote in a statement.
In its letter to Congress, the EPA said the tax would raise $18.9 billion by the year 2020.
The letter was written by Lisa P. Jackson, the EPA administrator, appointed by President Obama.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, opposes the tax because it targets all oil and chemical companies, not just those deemed responsible for pollution. Inhofe is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

"First and foremost, the polluter must pay; that's our No. 1 message,” said Matt Dempsey, Inhofe's spokesman. "The focus needs to be on finding the responsible parties because that's what's worked, and we need to keep at it.”

There have been a number of unsuccessful attempts to resurrect the Superfund tax since 1995, Dempsey said.

The monetary burden on energy companies and the public would be high, said Minty.
"We've seen a number of tax proposals made by this administration that would increase the tax burden for energy companies,” he said.

"We don't believe the Obama administration understands the impact these proposals would ultimately have on the price of energy we all pay.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., wrote the House legislation the EPA supports that would reinstate the taxes for 10 years.

If it were to pass, it would go into effect on January 1.