July 26, 2017

In Task Force Report, the EPA Provides a Glimpse Into the Future of Superfund

On May 22, 2017, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the formation of the Superfund Task Force. During his short time at EPA, Administrator Pruitt has emphasized the need to “streamline and improve the Superfund program,” a priority he highlighted at Faegre Baker Daniels’ annual Energy & Environmental Symposium this year, where he delivered the keynote address. 

It has proven to be very difficult for Superfund sites to be removed from the National Priorities Lists (NPL) once they have been listed. According to a study by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, only eight sites on the NPL were completely cleaned up in 2014, compared to 88 in 1997. As of June of this year, there were 1,336 sites on the NPL that are in various stages of the cleanup process, while more continue to be added.

The Superfund Task Force, chaired by Albert Kelly, was tasked with providing recommendations in 30 days on cleaning up sites currently on the NPL in an expedited manner. The Task Force included leaders from offices within the EPA that touch on Superfund issues, such as Office of Land and Emergency Management and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, as well as regional offices. When the report was released this week, it was estimated that over 100 professionals in the agency contributed to the original draft, indicating its importance to Administrator Pruitt.

Superfund Report Summary

The report outlines five overarching goals that Administrator Pruitt charged the Task Force with incorporating in the plan. It also puts forth 42 recommendations that the agency could take on its own in order to achieve those goals. The goals and recommendations include:

  • Expediting Cleanup and Remediation: High priority will be given to cleaning up and removing sites from the NPL in a timely manner. The report recommends developing numerous lists to target sites that need immediate attention, such as those that still pose health risks. A “Top Ten Administrator’s Emphasis List” is to be delivered to Pruitt along with monthly reports on the progress of the prioritized sites. It recommends using established management strategies on large and complex sites; a review of the approval process for sites that exceed $50 million; prioritizing projects and allocating resources accordingly; and using the most up-to-date technologies to expedite cleanup.
  • Re-Invigorating Responsible Party Cleanup and Reuse: The agency aims to assist parties in their cleanup efforts by “utilizing tools and procedures” and offering incentives to spur quicker cleanup activities. This includes things like designating states to lead cleanup operations, using financial incentives, reducing overlap and duplication at the government level, engaging third parties for certain tasks and looking for opportunities to reuse the sites.
  • Encouraging Private Investment: The report encourages greater use of private sector tools and techniques in the cleanup of sites. Using third-party groups to come up with new and innovative ways to assist in cleanup efforts can expedite the process and potentially lead to redevelopment of the site.
  • Promoting Redevelopment and Community Revitalization: An overall theme in the report is the potential for redevelopment of former Superfund sites, and the report recommends putting together a list of 20 sites that have potential for reuse and community development, conducting redevelopment training and engaging local communities on the benefits of site reuse.
  • Engaging Partners and Stakeholders: The EPA believes that stronger relationships or partnerships need be formed with all stakeholders in the Superfund process and EPA recommends holding more regularly schedule meetings with all parties involved about the cleanup process and the potential for redevelopment.

Next Steps

Some of the recommendations in the report will take some time to be implemented, as they will require guidance from the EPA, while others will be implemented immediately. In a memo to top EPA officials accompanying the report, Administrator Pruitt called for immediate action on 11 of the 42 recommendations, including identifying and prioritizing sites that still potentially pose a health risk. Additionally, he has asked that EPA regional offices produce a list of sites within 60 days that meet the cleanup criteria under the Superfund program so that they can be deleted from the list.

While there is no concrete timeline for all of the recommendations, it is obvious that EPA is moving forward on many of the implementation steps. Companies and interested parties such as the states, local governments, and NGOs should pay close attention to the reforms and how the overall recommendations will be implemented.

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