Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...
A 20-year-old EPA policy meant to protect landowners such as Alaska native groups from cleanup liability for over $1.7 billion in their state hasn’t eradicated their fear of big cleanup bills.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s 1997 policy is meant to “alleviate uncertainty” in situations where owners of former federal property could be responsible for contamination the government caused, according to the policy.
Sarah Lukin, board member of the Afognak Native Corporation in Alaska, said some Alaska native corporations are unwilling to notify the EPA of possible toxins on their land.
“Instead, they’re living with the contamination, and they’re afraid to come forward to the proper authorities,” Lukin said. She brought up her concerns at a hearing of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee March 29.
The corporations received federal lands from the Department of the Interior through an act of Congress in 1971. Since the corporations were considered the current property owners when Superfund was enacted in 1980, that leaves Alaska native corporations potentially liable for contamination.
The EPA reserves the right to depart from the 1997 policy, and the policy is not enforceable by law, according to the document itself, “Policy Towards Landowners and Transferees of Federal Facilities.”
The EPA declined requests for comment from Bloomberg BNA for this story.
The Superfund law requires the U.S. government to remediate its contaminated properties before conveying them to another owner.
“These sites are really a moral and legal obligation of the federal government,” said Alexandra Smith, nuclear waste program manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology.
Even where the federal government is actively participating in site cleanup, local stakeholders are unsure if the pace of that work can continue if proposed cuts to the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ budgets become reality.
In a March budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018, the Trump administration proposed a $1 billion budget cut for the Corps. The blueprint would also cut the EPA’s budget by more than $2 billion, or about 30 percent.
If federal funding for remediation dries up, Smith said, “there is little the state can do to fill the void.”
The Formerly Used Defense Sites program identifies contaminated properties held by the Department of Defense before 1986.
According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ commanding general, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the Corps has identified 5,300 cleanup sites and has now closed or is monitoring 3,500 of them.
The Corps estimates it will cost about $11.8 billion to close out remediation of the remaining properties in the Formerly Used Defense Sites program. About 176 of the sites are in Alaska, with an estimated completion cost of $1.7 billion.
Hallie Bissett, executive director of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, told Bloomberg BNA that she and Alaska state officials are not aware of any sites in the state where the EPA has applied the 1997 policy to release contaminated federal property owners from cleanup liability.
An Alaska Native Corporation—the NANA Regional Corporation—is paying for the cleanup at a former federal property that was once a gold mine.
An Alaska borough asked the state to evaluate the contamination there in 2005, and soil testing revealed elevated concentrations of mercury, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals.
According to Bissett, the Bureau of Land Management said the federal government was not liable for mining-related waste at the site and was not responsible or able to conduct cleanup work.
The property is currently on Alaska’s list of contaminated sites. NANA Regional Corporation did not return two calls from Bloomberg BNA for comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the EPA policy: http://src.bna.com/nDk
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)