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Schumer’s Two-Part Plan For Infrastructure Package Would Add: 1) Multi-Billion Infusion To Revive EPA Superfund Program 2) Restore Superfund “Polluter Pay” Tax For Long-Term Funding 

Schumer: It’s Time For Congress To Invest In Fully Cleaning Up The Mess Polluting Ulster County

Standing at the asbestos-contaminated former TechCity site in the Town of Ulster, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently taken enforcement actions under its Superfund removal program, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched a bold two-part plan to revive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program in the upcoming infrastructure bills. Specifically, Schumer said that in the upcoming bills he will first push to invest billions in EPA-supported cleanups nationwide and, second, he will fight to revive the long-expired Superfund tax to ensure that polluters are responsible for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

“Ulster County residents can neither afford, nor deserve, a largescale asbestos contamination like the one at TechCity,” said Senator Schumer. “It is incumbent on the polluters to clean up and fully remediate the toxins to ensure health, safety, and peace of mind for Ulster County communities. However, with a contamination this large we must have an all hands on deck approach and the federal government must step up to the plate and help with clean-up, which is why I’m calling for a multi-billion infusion for the vital Superfund program, which has already spent $600 thousand right here in Ulster, in addition to securing more federal support for EPA-supported cleanups.  Cleaning up contaminated sites like TechCity for return to productive use can be an engine for economic development across the country and is a critical part of rebuilding the Hudson Valley’s infrastructure, improving public health, and creating jobs.”

Schumer explained that, as outlined in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, he will first push for an additional $5 billion investment to remediate and redevelop Brownfield and Superfund sites, as well as related economic and workforce development programs, in the upcoming infrastructure bills. Importantly, the current bipartisan infrastructure proposal also includes an additional investment to the EPA Superfund program. This year, EPA’s annual budget for the Superfund Response and Removal program was roughly $190 million nationwide. EPA Region 2, which covers New York, received roughly $18 million of that pot this year, with $12 million allocated for field work and removal activities. Currently, according to EPA, the agency is involved with 43 different sites in New York State, including PRP lead and federally funded work. Although EPA can straddle large multi-million dollar projects, like TechCity, across multiple fiscal years to fund this work, this increased investment will provide additional funding resources for EPA’s high priority sites and streamline pathways to productive reuse. 

Schumer said that, while this one-time investment in federal cleanups is key to improving public health and creating job opportunities as New York builds back from the pandemic, the second part of his plan - reviving long-expired industry Superfund taxes - would provide additional long-term funding certainty to cleanup sites. Through the Hazardous Substance Superfund Trust Fund, chemical manufacturers once paid taxes to help fund the cleanup of sites where potentially responsible parties couldn’t be found or couldn’t pay. However, the federal government's authority to collect industry taxes for this Fund expired over 25 years ago in 1995. Schumer said that reinstating this tax would go a long way in reviving toxic waste sites by providing greater funding certainty. Recently, the White House also supported the proposed “polluter pay” tax as outlined in the bipartisan infrastructure framework.

Schumer said that his two-part plan is key to cleaning up contaminated sites, like TechCity, and putting them to productive use to help to fuel the regional economy while improving public health. Schumer explained that Ulster County has already taken ownership of two parcels at the former TechCity site and plans to invest $1.5M of its $34.49M that Senator Schumer fought tirelessly to secure in the American Rescue Plan to create hundreds of jobs at that site. Currently, the County has received over 20 proposals for the potential redevelopment of that property alone. 

“Today, we are taking another major step in revitalizing this site, returning it to its rightful place as the beating heart of our reenergized and revamped Ulster County economy,” County Executive Pat Ryan said. “Senator Schumer has been a longtime partner and a champion for the residents of Ulster County. Through his fierce advocacy for the cleanup of this site and his successful efforts to secure over $34 million in American Rescue Plan funds for the county, we now have the funds and the support to bring this site back to life and create quality jobs and opportunity for our community.”

“Fighting for the last 12 years to revitalize and clean up Tech City, I commend Senator Schumer for his bold proposal to provide additional resources to the EPA for their efforts to remediate Superfund and Brownfield sites nationwide and hopefully in the Town of Ulster,” said Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley.

Cleaning up the remaining hazardous waste and asbestos debris piles at TechCity, Schumer said, could yield even more opportunities for new jobs and industries to come to the Hudson Valley. For over 30 years, the 258-acre property, bordered by Enterprise Drive, Boices Lane, the CSX railroad tracks and U.S. Route 209, was Ulster County’s economic engine as the home of IBM and its 7,000 person workforce. However, in 1998, the computer giant sold the property and its new owner endeavored to build a commercial park by selling subdivided parcels within the property to varied business interests with only limited success. Today, TechCity faces decaying buildings, piles of rubble, asbestos contamination, and millions in unpaid taxes. The site is near a residential area and sits close to athletic fields used by a children’s soccer league. According to Ulster County, the estimated cost to clean up the former IBM campus will be up to $12 million dollars and currently the owner of the toxic site owes an estimated $22 million in back taxes.

TechCity is being addressed under EPA’s shorter-term cleanup program, the Superfund Removal program, Schumer said. According to the EPA, in March of 2020, the agency mobilized to the site to undertake a portion of the removal work. EPA’s actions included:

  • Demolition of an asbestos-contaminated, partially-demolished structure identified as Building 2 and disposal of approximately 200 tons of asbestos-contaminated material;
  • Decontaminating 150 tons of steel, which was shipped off-site for recycling; and
  • Securing the exterior of Building 1 by repairing barriers, installing temporary fencing, and posting asbestos warning signs.

Senator Schumer applauded EPA’s enforcement efforts at the site, which are still ongoing. Both Congress and EPA have determined that asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant and medical science has established that no minimum level of exposure to asbestos fibers is considered safe to exposed persons. Exposure to asbestos can lead to a debilitating lung disease called asbestosis, a rare cancer of the chest and abdominal lining called mesothelioma, and various other cancers.