BY JON CRONIN
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s administration’s proposal to slash $2.3 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget, there is now little funding for the cleanup of the hazardous Wolff-Alport Chemical Company Superfund site in Ridgewood, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Brooklyn) said.
In October, the EPA announced a remediation plan, but there is currently no start date or timeline for it.
Velázquez is now proposing legislation that will shift the cleanup payment of those sites from taxpayers to a tax on oil and chemical companies that would fund the Superfund cleanup program.
“In order to make serious strides in Superfund cleanup, we must raise adequate funding, and that starts by requiring big companies to pay their fair share,” said Velázquez.
Velázquez pointed out that “orphaned” Superfund sites, such as Wolff-Alport, that do not have parties to pay for cleanup would need government assistance. Between 1980 and 1995, Congress had a Superfund tax on big oil and chemical companies for those orphaned sites.
During that time, the fund raised $3.8 billion, but the tax was allowed to expire and the funding ran out by 2003. The burden then went to taxpayers.
According to Velazquez, taxpayers have paid $21 billion for Superfund sites since that time. Velázquez’s bill—H.R. 5669, the Superfund Enhancement Act of 2018—would reinstate the Superfund tax.
The congresswoman’s bill would also give a tax deduction of up to $10,000 for nearby small businesses to relocate from a Superfund site. It would do the same for homeowners, tenants and residents living on or adjacent to a Superfund site. Those residents would be eligible for Disaster and Economic Injury loans through the Small Business Administration.
But getting a bill such as this one passed in a Republican-controlled legislature would be difficult, Velázquez said.
“Certainly, congressional Republicans and this administration have shown themselves to be close allies to polluters and no friend to our environment,” she said. “However, there are Superfund sites in every corner of this country, and I intend to relentlessly remind my Republican colleagues that by ignoring the issue, they’re putting oil companies’ special interests before their taxpaying constituents who are footing the bill for remediation.”
While a “blue wave” of Democratic wins in the House or Senate in November could enable such a bill to be passed, Velázquez said that the bill is a start.
“We’ll see what next year brings, but in the meantime, this legislation is a way to frame the debate and move the issue forward,” she said.
The Wolff-Alport Superfund site is located at 11-25 to 11-39 Irving Ave. and 15-14 Cooper Ave. in Ridgewood. The $39.9 million project does not have a start or end date, and the EPA community coordinator did not return a request by the Queens Tribune for comment by press time.
The Wolff-Alport Chemical Company worked at the site from the early 1920s until 1954. The thorium waste created from its work was sent into the sewer and possibly buried on the property. It is believed that residual contamination still exists on site in or around the sewer lines that are downstream of the facility.
“With their draconian budget cuts and regulatory rollbacks, the Trump administration is the most dramatic threat to environmental protections in recent history,” said Velázquez. “Unless Congress acts, the cleanup of these sites will be kicked further down the road, leaving local families and business to continue to suffer.”