The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has sent a letter to Congress in support of reinstating lapsed tax provisions that require polluters to pay for the Superfund for environmental cleanup.

The move comes in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Superfund is a federal government program that investigates and cleans up the nation’s most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The Superfund taxes expired on Dec. 31, 1995. Since the expiration of the taxes, Superfund program funding has been largely financed by transfers from the federal government’s general revenue to the Superfund Trust Fund, burdening taxpayers with the costs of cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites.

If reinstated, the Superfund “polluter pays” tax provision would provide a stable, dedicated source of revenue for the program and increase the pace of Superfund cleanup, the EPA argues. It would also ensure that parties who benefit from the manufacture or sale of substances that commonly cause environmental problems at hazardous waste sites, and not taxpayers, help bear the cost of cleanup when the responsible parties cannot be identified.

“Since the beginning of this administration, we have made it clear that we support the reinstatement of the polluter pays system for the Superfund program,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “Our taxes should be paying for teachers, police officers and infrastructure that is essential for sustainable growth — not footing the bill for polluters. Today, we are formalizing our call to Congress to pass this important legislation and ensure responsible steps to keep our communities clean. In the meantime, EPA is taking action to better manage the Superfund program to increase cleanups and enhance transparency, accountability, and community input in agency decision-making.”

The administration is proposing to reinstate the taxes as they were last in effect on crude oil, imported petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and imported substances that use hazardous chemicals as a feedstock, and on corporate modified alternative minimum taxable income. Under the administration’s proposal, the excise taxes and corporate environmental taxes would be reinstated for a period of 10 years beginning in January 2011.

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