EPA Takes Back Decision-Making Authority for Most Costly Superfund Cleanups
In a break with long-standing policy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken back authority to approve remedies costing $50 million or more at Superfund sites effective immediately. According to the delegation of authority memo issued on May 9, 2017, the purpose of these revisions is to promote accountability and consistency in the remedy selection process and encourage speedier remediation and revitalization of contaminated sites.
Superfund is a program established under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances. The lead agency has primary responsibility for coordinating a cleanup, and is often a state environmental protection agency or regional office. Under this revised delegation of authority, however, when the remedy or remedial alternative selected in the Record of Decision (ROD) is estimated to cost more than $50 million, lead agencies will have to involve the administrator’s office in developing and evaluating remedy alternatives and the selection of the remedy.
Pruitt’s memo appears to be aimed at sediment and mining “mega-sites” with complex and unique contaminants that can be extremely costly and continue to be a challenge for the Superfund program. The stated reason for this change—to encourage expedited remediation and revitalization of contaminated sites—is consistent with the Trump Administration’s stated goal of streamlining development projects at environmentally impacted property. This policy, however, will likely add delay into remedy approvals and lead to an altered relationship between potentially responsible parties and the regional offices of EPA in developing remedies.