The Obama Administration wants a new corporate tax to support the Superfund program, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently said she backs the idea. Monday, New York City received a major Superfund designation. San Francisco is expected to receive one soon.

What is Superfund? A “temporary” federal program enacted 30 years ago on an “emergency” basis. Its original purpose long since having expired, Superfund lives on.

Superfund is an object lesson in how government programs simply never end. A thousand years from now at the Mare Erythraeum on Mars, the city of New New Orleans will be demanding “temporary” Superfund money.

An actual program that worked

Until the late 1970s, federal law and most state laws did not regulate the disposal of toxic waste – the result was leaking chemicals at Love Canal, New York, Times Beach, Missouri, and other places. In response, in 1980, Congress passed the Superfund statute to finance toxic-waste cleanups. Promoted as an emergency measure that would be on the books only a short time, Superfund proved an effective tool, stabilizing then cleaning up dangerous leaked wastes.

Simultaneously, regulations of the late 1970s through mid 1980s imposed tight controls on the disposal of toxic chemicals, preventing new Love Canals from occurring. Combined, these actions represent an argument that government actually can solve problems.