Why Shouldn't the Polluters Pay?

Did your mother ever tell you that if you made a mess it was yours to clean up?

This is basic stuff. Taught by parents to children throughout our land, this admonition is part of America's cultural core, central to our ethical belief that we must be responsible for what we do. Even very young children understand this lesson in life.

But there are some grownups who seem completely unable to grasp the concept. For example, industrial polluters are among the poutiest, most willful violators of this childhood rule. Toxic polluters prefer to make the mess, grab the profits, and run.

That's why the Superfund waste cleanup law was passed in 1980. "The polluter pays" was the rallying cry, and the law was needed because polluters engaged in so many shell games to avoid their clean-up responsibilities. This law assessed a tax on corporations that contaminate our air, water, and communities, with the money going into a trust fund that pays for clean-ups at especially-nasty industrial sites.

Of course industry executives threw little tantrums about being taxed, but the Superfund law has worked to clean up about 500 of their messes. In 1995, however, congress finally caved in to the industry's whining and eliminated the tax, which had amassed a fund of nearly $4 billion. Now, however, that fund is down to $28 million, and there are still huge "megasites" to clean up that will cost more than $200 million each -- plus, industry is creating more toxic messes all the time.

So here comes George W to the rescue ... of the polluters! Despite the obvious need, his new budget specifically rejects any restoration of the corporate tax to bolster the Superfund. He says the polluter tax is "burdensome" to industry, so instead of making polluters pay, he'll simply clean-up fewer places and shift the cost to us taxpayers.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... If George thinks the tax is "burdensome," he ought to try being among the polluted who live next to industry's Super-messes.

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