EPA's Superfund Task Force has completed a review of the 1,300 Superfund sites across the country and, as directed by EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt, made recommendations on how to improve and restructure the cleanup process. Having studied the Superfund sites for 30 days, the Task Force identified five overarching goals, with 42 supporting recommendations, but their report clearly focuses on two overarching principles: expediency and site reuse.
The Task Force recommendations, released on July 25, 2017, signal that EPA will focus on maximizing efficient and timely site remediation, removing sites from the Superfund National Priority List (NPL) and redeveloping sites for productive future uses.
Takeaways for businesses involved in site cleanups are discussed below.
- Goal 1: Expedite cleanup and remediation. The Task Force's primary focus, as well as EPA's, is to accelerate the completion of site cleanups. The Task Force recommended placing significant attention on resolving sites that have been listed on the NPL for five years, or sites where a remedy design has not started for more than two years. The Task Force also recommended a "Top Ten Administrator's Emphasis List" to determine those sites in most need of immediate attention, and take action to resolve and remove them from the NPL.
- Goal 2: Encourage responsible party cleanup and site reuse. The Task Force recommended using incentives and protections for cooperating responsible parties who are undertaking site cleanups—for instance, through early settlements and collaboration. The Task Force recommended that responsible parties, agencies, and local professionals identify redevelopment and site reuse opportunities, to enhance the market for profitable and productive use of formerly contaminated sites.
- Goal 3: Encourage private investment. Private parties often allocate environmental liabilities and risk among themselves to pay for and reuse contaminated properties, through indemnities, insurance, and other risk transfer devices. The Task Force recommended further investigation into Environmental Liability Transfer (ELT) options to offer third parties interested in buying and selling the risk of a cleanup.
- Goal 4: Promote redevelopment and community revitalization. The Task Force identified local training, funding, and financing tools to better support communities and support redevelopment of Superfund Sites. This includes providing better information concerning the current cleanup status of sites, and developing "reuse" fact sheets during remedial design to provide site information to the community.
- Goal 5: Engage partners and stakeholders. The final goal of the Task Force was to obtain better cooperation and involvement from the key stakeholders. These stakeholders include state and local entities, federally recognized Native American Tribes, members of the business community, responsible parties, contractors and private organizations, including environmental and financial organizations. Communication with all parties is critically important to a cleanup's progress and site redevelopment.
It is early to know exactly how the Task Force's recommendations will affect any individual contaminated site cleanup or property transaction. But these recommendations give support to responsible parties who wish to advocate creative solutions to minimize cleanup costs while expediting site cleanups and redevelopment.
In analyzing the feasibility of various remedies, new emphasis can be placed on the pace of site cleanup and the value of post-remedy use of the property. Certainly, EPA is focused on these goals, and − with variation by jurisdiction − state and local agencies will follow suit to some extent. Responsible parties, along with potential buyers and sellers of contaminated properties, will be well served to align their objectives with the goals promoted by the Task Force's recommendations.