Advocates claim that the Superfund tax is a moral imperative because they say it's based on the "polluter pays” principle. This tax is really a perversion of the polluter pays principle and simply promises to raise energy prices at a time when consumers are already suffering enough. A correct understanding of the principle holds that if you cause environmental damage, you should pay to correct the harm. In a market system, that means compensating the party whose property you damaged. The principle promotes good behavior by holding individual parties responsible for their actions.The Superfund tax was created as part of the nation's law to clean up contaminated property. The monies collected were designed for a special fund, euphemistically called "the Superfund."The Environmental Protection Agency was then to use this money to clean up waste sites. The tax for this fund expired in 1995, but the fund is only now beginning to run low.Unlike the "polluter pays" principle, this tax rested on what could be called the "tax the innocent" principle. This principle allows the government to take money out of the pockets of innocent parties to line the pockets of regulators. Under the "tax the innocent" principle, chemical and petroleum businesses are punished for the "sin" of being part of industries that environmentalists don't like. It has nothing to do with their individual actions.Did you legally transport waste to a site 50 years before that property became contaminated? You are guilty. Legally arrange to have waste delivered to a site? Guilty. Did you inherit land from your grandmother that the EPA discovered was contaminated 50 years ago? You are guilty again. It doesn't matter if another party contaminated the site. You are liable under all these situations.One of the few legal escape clauses in the law requires you to show that contamination was an "act of God." But the EPA and the courts practically never accept that defense. Apparently, they don't like to blame the Almighty. Perhaps that's because he never pays into the Superfund.The EPA has held God's agents (churches and their officials) liable, as well as homeowners, hundreds of schools (simply for producing trash), local governments, small businesses and everyone it could link to a site.While they are often depicted as cancer hot spots, there is little evidence that Superfund sites pose any significant health risks.Common sense tells us that to be culpable you have to actually commit the sin. Being in the business of providing energy and chemical products to consumers who demand them doesn't fit the profile. If regulators thought they could collect, they'd probably even try to sue God.
Friday, September 5, 2003
Logomasini Op-Ed in Atlanta Journal-Constitution