More Incentives for Faster Superfund Cleanups in EPA Game Plan

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By Sylvia Carignan

Companies involved with contaminated properties will see more incentives to negotiate quicker deals for faster cleanups over the next year as part of the EPA’s continued emphasis on addressing Superfund sites.

The program was a priority of former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, but his task force has completed less than a third of its Superfund program reforms in the past year. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said that priority will continue.

The EPA’s Superfund task force drafted more than 40 recommendations in July 2017 on how to improve the contaminated site cleanup program. The agency anticipates completing 27 percent of those recommendations by the end of July, and the remaining 73 percent over the next 13 months, according to a July 23 EPA report.

The agency plans to make progress on redevelopment by providing companies the incentive of reduced oversight at Superfund sites, revising guidance for third parties who want to get involved at contaminated sites, and providing more clarity about companies’ cleanup responsibilities.

The Superfund task force has consistently emphasized cleanup speed, John Gullace, partner at Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox LLP in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., told Bloomberg Environment. Gullace has represented companies involved with Superfund sites.

“It appears that EPA is still looking at ways to accomplish this goal, which could include quicker reviews by EPA, but [potentially responsible parties] should expect EPA to move [potentially responsible party]-lead cleanups along more quickly,” he said in an email.

Defining Goals

Some of the agency’s completed recommendations are still a work in progress, said Katherine Probst, who works on Superfund issues as an independent consultant with Kate Probst Consulting near Washington, D.C. The agency marks the administrator’s list of priority Superfund sites as a completed recommendation, although sites continue to be added and deleted from the list.

The remaining, incomplete recommendations range from building relationships with federal agencies to developing templates for letters the agency sends to companies.

“All these recommendations are not equal in terms of the import and impact to the program,” she told Bloomberg Environment.

Over the next year, the EPA also will emphasize the “adaptive management” approach to Superfund sites, where the agency’s regional offices are encouraged to take early cleanup actions at sites with immediate risks or the potential for a contaminant to spread. The approach could make cleanup cheaper and quicker, but also could create uncertainty for companies responsible for cleanup, sources previously told Bloomberg Environment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergenvironment.com

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