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EPA Making Superfund Program a Top Priority


June 28, 2017
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Makes Superfund Program a Top Priority

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt recently issued a memorandum stating that he plans to prioritize the agency’s Superfund cleanups. According to Pruitt, Superfund cleanup efforts “will be restored to their rightful place at the center of the agency’s core mission.”

EPA Makes EPA Superfund Top Priority

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io

New Jersey Superfund Sites

Remediating superfund sites is multi-phase process that typically takes several years. Prior to any cleanup taking place, the EPA must conduct a preliminary site assessment, complete the National Priorities List (NPL) site listing process (if applicable), perform a remedial investigation/feasibility study, issue a record of decision, and implement a remedial design/remedial action.

New Jersey leads the country with 114 Superfund sites, which is the designation given to the areas of the country with the most severe environmental contamination. Accordingly, the proposed changes to the cleanup process will certainly be felt across the state.

EPA Administrator Pulls Back Superfund Authority

Pruitt’s announcement follows the EPA’s recent amendment of the delegations of authority under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The amendment pulls back to the Administrator’s Office the authority to issue remedy selection decisions when the estimated cost of the remedy exceeds $50 million. 

The authority to issue remedy selection decisions when the estimated cost of the remedy exceeds $50 million had been previously delegated to the Assistant Administrator for Office of Land and Emergency Management and the Regional Administrators. The latter officials retain the authority to make remedy selection decisions under $50 million and other response action decisions. 

With regard to that change, Pruitt stated that “this authority had been delegated many layers into the bureaucracy, resulting in confusion among stakeholders and delayed revitalization efforts. Putting the decision of how to clean up the sites directly into the hands of the administrator will help revitalize contaminated sites faster.”

Actions to Prioritize Superfund Program

In addition to changes in the decision-making process, the EPA plans to form a task force to make recommendations on how to “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.” Below are several actions that the EPA plans to take:

  • Identifying best practices within regional Superfund programs, reducing the amount of time between identification of contamination at a site and determination that a site is ready for reuse, encouraging private investment at sites during and after cleanup and realigning incentives of all involved parties to foster faster cleanups.
  • Streamlining the process used to develop, issue or enter into prospective purchaser agreements, bona fide prospective purchaser status, comfort letters, ready-for-reuse determinations and other administrative tools under the agency’s existing authorities used to incentivize private investment at sites.
  • Improving the remedy development and selection process, particularly at sites with contaminated sediment, including to ensure that risk-management principles are considered in the selection of remedies at such sites. The task force is also directed to propose recommendations for promoting consistency in remedy selection and more effective utilization of the National Remedy Review Board and the Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group in an efficient and expeditious manner.
  • Utilizing alternative and non-traditional approaches for financing site cleanups, as well as improvements to the management and use of Superfund special accounts.
  • Reducing the administrative and overhead costs and burdens borne by parties remediating contaminated sites, including a reexamination of the level of agency oversight necessary.
  • Improving the agency’s interactions with key stakeholders under the Superfund program, particularly other federal agencies at federal facilities and federal potentially responsible parties, and expand the role that tribal, state and local governments, local and regional economic development zones and public-private partnerships play in the Superfund program. The task force must also propose recommendations for better addressing the liability concerns of state, tribes and local governments.

Do you have any questions regarding the EPA Superfund? Would you like to discuss the matter further? If so, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.