Despite condoning a 34 percent cut to his agency’s funding for fiscal year 2018, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt this week announced a seemingly ambitious plan to expedite the federal Superfund process to address the roughly 1,300 sites listed on the National Priorities List. Characterizing these sites as “languishing,” Pruitt promised that the “days of talking are over,” and that EPA would take immediate action to accelerate cleanup efforts nationwide.
Specifically, on July 25, Pruitt and the U.S. EPA Superfund Task Force released their “Recommendations to Streamline and Improve the Superfund Program.” The Report detailed 42 recommendations organized into five goals, which Pruitt believes will have the effect of expediting the remedial process and promoting reuse of contaminated sites. The high-level goals identified are: (1) expediting cleanup and remediation; (2) re-invigorating responsible party cleanup and reuse; (3) encouraging private investment; (4) promoting redevelopment and community revitalization; and (5) encouraging partners and stakeholders.
Additionally, Pruitt directed a letter to EPA Regional Administrators across the nation outlining 11 specific action items which the administrators are directed to undertake over the next year. These actions include utilizing interim response actions and removal authority more frequently to address immediate risks and prevent migration at Superfund sites, focus their attention and resources on sites with the most reuse potential, and delete or partially delete sites that meet CERCLA requirements from the National Priorities List.
Pruitt further promised to use the Agency’s resources to identify a ‘top-10’ list of Superfund sites which pose a risk to public health today, including specifically the West Lake landfill in Missouri and the USS Lead site in East Chicago, Indiana, and to become personally involved in the remediation of those ‘top-10’ Superfund sites.
While the announcement was greeted with optimism by some, it did not go unnoticed that Pruitt’s announcement placed the Superfund program at what he termed its “rightful place at the center of the agency’s core mission,” and admittedly diverted the Agency’s attention away from Obama-era efforts to fight global climate change.
The announcement also left some scratching their heads. “We have Superfund sites, but we don’t have a super fund,” Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law commented to the Washington Post. Because the Superfund program has not been adequately funded for years, EPA has had to rely upon polluting parties to fund cleanups, and that process tends to be slower than EPA-conducted cleanups because responsible parties mount legal and administrative challenges along the way. Pruitt played down the need for additional funding to accomplish his goals, and instead stressed the “excitement” of his team to take on the Superfund program.
Only time will tell whether Pruitt’s initiative is the much-needed reboot to the Superfund program.