New Tax on Toxic Waste Proposed : Reagan Bill Would Help Clean Up Abandoned Dumps

Associated Press

The Reagan Administration Friday proposed to Congress a new tax on hazardous waste to help clean up abandoned dumps and called for the states to pay more in a tripled Superfund cleanup program.

The Administration's bill also would rule out many activities that have been proposed for Superfund help and confine cleanups to abandoned dumps.

The new tax, to be collected from each of the 4,800 landfills, incinerators or other plants holding federal disposal permits, is designed to raise about $600 million a year and support three-fifths of the cost of cleanup.

To discourage disposal of toxic substances in landfills, the tax rate would be four times as high for landfills as for all other methods of disposal--$11.13 per ton versus $2.61 initially, $16.32 versus $4.37 in 1990.

Existing Tax Unchanged

An existing tax on crude oil and 42 basic chemicals, which will bring in more than $270 million this year, would continue unchanged, with its yield rising to an estimated $300 million.

Interest on idle funds and recoveries from court cases against dumpers would bring in another $100 million a year, the proposal said, and all sources would amount to $5.3 billion through 1990.

"I strongly believe that the funds used to pay for the program should be generated entirely through these dedicated sources, not through the general treasury," President Reagan said in a statement.

The chemical tax now pays for only about two-thirds of Superfund, far below the original 1980 projections, with the rest coming from general tax revenues.

Program Expires

The bill would renew the Superfund program, which expires Sept. 30, for five years. The Administration last year successfully fought back all efforts in Congress for early renewal.

The new proposal would rule out Superfund expenditures on pesticide-contaminated ground water, asbestos removal from buildings, mining wastes and other non-dump targets

"We're saying Superfund's purpose in life is not to clean up everything that's contaminated," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lee M. Thomas told reporters.

That means six sites in Hawaii proposed for inclusion in the EPA's priority list of 786 sites would have to be dropped, and perhaps a few others, Thomas said. The Environmental Defense Fund said 27 proposed sites would have to be dropped.

Brunt of Criticism

This focusing of effort to what Thomas said was the initial purpose of Superfund attracted the brunt of initial criticism from environmental groups. The Sierra Club called the Administration's action a "shell game."

States now pay 10% of the cost of non-emergency cleanups, with the federal government paying all preparation costs. The Administration bill would raise the state share to 20%. Thomas said he had no estimate of what that would mean to the states in dollars.

He said the states would be asked to do more because "state revenues are increasing, with surpluses emerging over time." The proposal eliminates a state ban on chemical taxes so they can tap that revenue source if they want, he said.

Also, states would be given a two-year deadline to draft plans to deal with toxic wastes removed from abandoned dumps. Otherwise they would lose Superfund money, except for emergencies, and then would have to pay 40%.

Richard Fortuna, executive director of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, a trade group of companies in the business, said the waste tax would be easy to evade. "We're the purported beneficiaries, but our reaction is, 'Don't do us any favors.' . . . It's pie in the sky."

Fortuna favored a tax on waste generators, but Thomas said, "We could not administer such a tax."

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