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Why does the U.S. Chamber really oppose the federal Superfund program?
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has long criticized the federal Superfund program – which cleans up heavily polluted sites, from Love Canal to the Atlas Tack facility – for its “unreasonable liability and cleanup standards,” and says that the program is “slow, ineffective, very expensive, and has managed to address very few sites,” as quoted this week in The New York Times.
While the Superfund program has had great successes (says Steve Cohen of the Earth Island Institute: “If we hadn’t had Superfund, we would have 30, 40, 50 million people in the direct pathway of exposure to toxic wastes,”), it's absolutely true that hasn't done enough -- but that's an argument for its strengthening, not dismantling. One of the great advances of the Superfund law was that it established the principle that the polluter must pay for cleanup.
Is it a surprise the U.S. Chamber says something to the contrary? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to nearly everything the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does or stands for. The Chamber is against the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, wants the government to take no further action on climate change, opposes government agencies using existing laws to regulate greenhouse gases, and it recently petitioned a federal appeals court to invalidate the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Utility MACT” rule – which aims to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants – because it says will lead to blackouts by forcing coal-fired power plants to close. Basically, in the Chamber’s world, environmental protection gets in the way of Big Business’s bottom line.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce would prefer to privatize – yes, privatize – the cleanup of contaminated property and minimize the government’s involvement, so it says on its website.
But how did the Chamber weigh in when one of its member organizations – BP – was facing huge liability for a massive environmental disaster? Let the taxpayers chip in for the cleanup. I kid you not.
This perhaps sheds some light on the Chamber's proposal to privatize Superfund cleanups. Can we surmise that the Chamber cares less about cleaning the environment than helping its polluter members escape liability from paying for the mess they make?