Rarely do large bureaucracies move quickly, but EPA Administrator Pruitt’s efforts to reshape the federal Superfund program have moved at an unusually brisk pace by any standards. On May 9, 2017, Administrator Pruitt issued a memorandum that gave him and his designee sole authority to select Superfund remedies that are likely to exceed $50 million. Later that month, on May 22, Administrator Pruitt issued another Memorandum, this one titled: “Prioritizing the Superfund Program,” in which he formed a Superfund Task Force to “provide recommendations on an expedited timeframe on how the agency can restructure the cleanup process, realign incentives of all involved parties to promote expeditious remediation, reduce the burden on cooperating parties, incentivize parties to remediate sites, encourage private investment in cleanups and sites, and promote the revitalization of properties across the country.”
The Superfund Task Force, which was comprised of EPA personnel from across the country, completed its work on June 21, 2017, and its recommendations were made public on July 25, 2017. The Superfund Task Force developed 42 recommendations, none of which require legislation. The themes we gleaned from the recommendations are that EPA wants to show quick progress at high-profile sites and generally speed up the Superfund process; EPA intends to reduce the number of Superfund sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) by completing cleanups and being more selective about the sites added to the NPL; and EPA will focus on ways to bring contaminated sites back into productive use. We can expect EPA to use both the carrot and the stick in pursuit of these goals in 2018.
One specific recommendation was that the Administrator become directly involved in ten high priority sites, a so-called Top 10 List. On December 8, 2017, EPA announced that the Top 10 List had been created – and initially consists of 21 sites that will receive Administrator Pruitt’s direct attention. The Administration has staked much of its environmental agenda on its ability to make the Superfund program more efficient, so we expect the Administration to continue its drive to accelerate the cleanup of high profile Superfund sites, such as those on the Top 21 List. Responsible parties at these sites, and other sites, should expect to see the Superfund process move more quickly than historically has been the norm. Equally, responsible parties may encounter an EPA that is more flexible when it comes to remedies, employing strategies such as adaptive management, but also perhaps quicker to issue orders where progress does not meet EPA’s expectations.
On January 17, 2018, EPA released a “Superfund Redevelopment Focus List” identifying 30 Superfund Sites “with the greatest expected redevelopment and commercial potential.” EPA developed the list in response to the Superfund Task Force Recommendations and is seeking to accelerate the productive reuse of these sites. According to EPA, it “will focus redevelopment training, tools and resources towards the sites on this list.” The list of 30 focus sites includes three in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey: the BoRit Asbestos site in Ambler, PA; the Crater Resources site in Upper Merion Township, PA; the Metal Bank site in Philadelphia, PA; and the Roebling Steel Co. site in Florence, NJ. EPA Administrator Pruitt was quoted in EPA’s announcement as saying: “EPA is more than a collaborative partner to remediate the nation’s most contaminated sites, we’re also working to successfully integrate Superfund sites back into communities across the country, … Today’s redevelopment list incorporates Superfund sites ready to become catalysts for economic growth and revitalization.”
The pace at which Pruitt’s EPA continues to address the Task Force recommendations is obviously unknown at this point, but as of now all signs point to speed. We expect Superfund to remain an EPA priority in 2018 and will watch with interest to see what specific new tools might be employed by EPA to begin returning contaminated sites to productive use.