WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday called for the return of a tax on companies to pay for cleaning toxic waste sites, riling Republicans who called it unfair for firms that do not despoil the environment.
Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., renewed her long-standing call to reinstate the tax program during a subcommittee hearing she chaired on the Superfund program, begun more than two decades ago to deal with major environmental health hazards such as Love Canal in western New York.
''I think it's clear this program needs additional funding. I think reinstating the polluter-pays fee is a step we must take both to provide additional funds for the cleanups and to make the program fairer. Ordinary taxpayers should not pay for cleanups and that's what's been happening,'' Clinton said.
The New York lawmaker has made that argument repeatedly during her years in the Senate, but it carries more weight now that she is the front-runner for her party's presidential nomination.
Since Democrats took control of the Senate earlier this year, Clinton has used her position as chair of a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee to rap the Bush administration's record on environmental issues.
A Republican on the committee, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said he was strongly opposed to resurrecting the Superfund tax as Clinton advocates.
''The tax does not distinguish a company that is a polluter from an environmental steward,'' Inhofe said. ''The tax goes where the money is, not where the responsibility lies.''
Congress rejected requests from the Clinton White House in the 1990s to continue the Superfund tax, which imposed taxes on companies dealing in petroleum and 42 other chemicals. After the tax ended, the fund ran out of money in 2003.
Democrats at the hearing also criticized Environmental Protection Agency officials for what they said was a slower pace in cleanups, arguing that the government has let more than 100 contaminated sites linger longer than necessary.
EPA assistant administrator Susan Bodine told the panel such criticism is an indirect result of the program's successes over the years because the sites still left to clean are the most complicated and difficult.