Make the polluters pay

President Bush’s decision to cut funding for the cleanup of several toxic waste dumps is a severe blow to working-class communities across the country. And it is, in all likelihood, a sentence of death to many who are going to have to continue to live with the carcinogens and other toxics that have polluted the water, ground and air from hundreds of these dumps.

Bush says his decision is mandated by the fact that the Superfund program, established in 1980 to partially finance the cleanup of these sites, is running out of money. And he is right – the fund that once had a surplus of more than $3.6 billion will be exhausted in 2004.

But there’s a reason the fund is running out of money: Congress has not renewed the tax on the chemical industry – about a billion dollars annually – to pay for the cleanup of toxic dumps left by companies that have gone out of business since the program expired in 1995. As a result the cost of the cleanup has increasingly come from general revenue, so that today industry pays less than half the cost of the cleanup, compared to more than 80 percent in 1995.

And there is a solution to the problem: reinstate the tax. It’s that simple – and that difficult. Congress, then under the leadership of Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott, rejected President Clinton’s request for renewal of the tax. And, as his budget for fiscal year 2003 makes clear, Bush has no intention of asking Congress to reauthorize the tax.

All of which means that the fight to continue the Superfund cleanup has to start at ground zero, with a grass roots movement in support of legislation already introduced in Congress calling for reauthorization of the tax.

The slogan “Make the polluters pay” is as valid today as ever. Come to think about it, it will make a good election-year slogan!


Sinking to the lowest level

The international impact of the Bush administration’s decision last May not to even acknowledge the existence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) moved from the realm of threat to reality on July 1, the date the court became a functioning institution, now ratified by 74 countries.

In a dramatic escalation of the Bush administration’s effort to place the U.S. above and beyond the reach of the court, the United States vetoed a six-month extension of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia because the Security Council refused to grant U.S. citizens serving on the mission immunity from the jurisdiction of the ICC.

The U.S. action, seen by most observers as another example of the “we’re above the law” philosophy of the Bush administration, infuriated court supporters. Both Britain and France characterized the U.S. veto – the 75th cast since the founding of the U.N. – as an extraordinary attempt to use the Security Council to undermine the ICC.

In an effort to give the U.S. a way out, France suggested that the U.S withdraw its 46 police officers rather than shut down the Bosnia mission. Some 712 U.S. citizens are assigned to the U.N.’s 15 peacekeeping missions. All enjoy immunity from arrest and prosecution by local authorities.

In an unusual move, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan came to the Security Council to appeal for a solution that would not compromise the future of U.N. peacekeeping operations. “The world cannot afford a situation in which the Security Council is deeply divided on such an important issue, and which may have implications for all U.N. peace operations,” he said.

William Pace, a spokesperson for the Coalition for the Criminal Court, who is not restricted by the niceties of diplomacy, was more blunt when he said: “The United States is pitting international law against international peacekeeping. The U.S. has sunk to its lowest level in its moral and political leadership at the U.N.”

We couldn’t agree more.