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Colorado's EPA Superfund sites receiving infusion of cash from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and new 'polluter pays' tax

Colorado's EPA Superfund sites receiving infusion of cash from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
Colorado's EPA Superfund sites receiving infusion of cash from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law 03:16

It's known as 'polluter pays' and starting this month, companies that produce chemicals will have to pay a new tax to fund the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund.

Superfund is responsible for cleaning up the most hazardous toxic waste sites in the country.  Colorado has twenty of these sites, including one along Vazquez Boulevard and I-70.

"Essentially we put lipstick on a pig. That's what we did because this is all around polluted areas," said Rachael Lehman, who served as the Healthy Communities Chair on the I-70/Vasquez boulevard Superfund Community Advisory Group for seven years.  She describes cleanup as complex and frustrating.


The area around Globeville Landing Park was once home to smelting operations and a city landfill, that she believes wasn't properly sealed. While other Superfund 'Operable Units' still exist nearby, she thinks this one was prematurely de-listed.  But the EPA says it had the concurrence of the state in finding all appropriate actions had been completed.

"They're saying we're no longer responsible.  We have filled our legal requirement.  Does that mean that this area is clean and is healthy and can support life?  It really doesn't," Lehman said. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last fall reinstated a tax on chemical companies that expired 26 years ago.  It is expected to raise some $14 to 19 Billion dollars over the next decade for Superfund cleanup across the country.  The Suncor Oil refinery in Commerce City confirms it's subject to the tax but didn't offer more detail.

"It's about time," said Lucy Molina who grew up in Elyria-Swansea as she was out canvassing the neighborhood. Molina was encouraging residents to take part in public comment on a permit renewal for Suncor.  Molina sees the tax on chemical production as just a start.


She said, "I feel this government from the local level up to the federal level owes these communities so much more.  Not only do we need cleanup, we need to heal. And we need to start building that trust."

The EPA Region 8 office says addressing environmental justice in the Denver and Commerce City communities is a high priority for current management.

And the infusion of funding from the new tax, plus a separate $25 million dollar Infrastructure Law appropriation heading to Colorado's Superfund sites is unprecedented.

EPA Region 8 Director of the Superfund and Emergency Management Division Betsy Smidinger said, "It is having a big impact not just on the cleanup aspect but also on the characterization and investigation and identifying where we do need to do additional work to clean up communities."


The EPA says while specifics on spending plans for the so called 'polluter pays' tax are forthcoming, the $25 Million dollar Infrastructure Law appropriation for Superfund will be spent over the next two years on:

•           Captain Jack Mill in Boulder

•           Colorado Smelter in Pueblo

•           Bonita Peak Mining District near Silverton

•           Standard Mine near Crested Butte

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