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Watchdog Organization Worries About Superfund Cleanups With EPA's New Chief

The Environmental Protection Agency designated the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company as an official Superfund site in September 2016.
The Environmental Protection Agency designated the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company as an official Superfund site in September 2016.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new chief wants to prioritize and streamline the nation’s major Superfund cleanups. And that makes at least one watchdog organization nervous. EPA chief Scott Pruitt says America’s Superfund cleanups take too long to start and too long to finish.In a May 22 memo, Pruitt wrote he wants these projects to be resolved at a faster pace and he personally wants a more hand-on role in making that happen.

That raises red flags for Jeff Ruch of “Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility” who says Pruitt is signaling:

“That he wants to hurry up and get these sites back into the real estate market regardless of the implications for public health and perhaps for the taxpayer depending upon who ends up getting stuck with the bill," says Ruch.

Montana has seventeen active Superfund sites. EPA administrators have always had final say over major Superfund decisions, but PEER’s Jeff Ruch says they usually defer that authority to the experts in EPA’s regional offices.

“And they’re the ones making site-specific decisions," Ruch says. "In this case, that decision making’s been relegated entirely in the hands of one person – a political appointee – who’s a politician who may be running for office and seeking contributions from the companies his decisions would benefit.”

The Trump administration has proposed cutting EPA’s budget by over $300 million dollars a year.

“And so that suggests that if you put these things in combination that less work would be done but they’ll be much quicker to get to declarations of victory," Ruch says.

The President’s budget is just a blueprint, but any actual changes to EPA funding have to be approved by Congress. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has established a task force to explore how EPA can expedite remediation at Superfund sites.

That task force will be led by Oklahoma banker Albert Kelly and is expected to offer its recommendations later this month.
 

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