Pruitt Favors More Expensive Superfund Plan for a Second Time (Corrected)

By Sylvia Carignan

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for a second time chose the more expensive option to dig out waste from a Superfund site, a signal for how he could approach future cleanups he has prioritized.

The West Lake Landfill plan “demonstrates my vision for the Superfund program,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Pruitt Feb. 1 chose a $236 million plan to excavate some radioactive waste and cap other waste at the Bridgeton, Mo., landfill site, which companies there welcomed. In October, Pruitt picked a $115 million excavation plan for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site outside Houston.

Both are on Pruitt’s list of sites that need “immediate, intense action” on the agency’s behalf.

Options for cleanup ranged from a $75 million plan that would excavate less material and leave radioactive waste on-site to a $685 million proposal to remove all radioactive contamination.

Possible Challenges

Pruitt’s excavation plans for the Texas and Missouri sites so far are untested.

“If EPA is making decisions that are maybe not as well considered as they could have been, the courts or Environmental Appeals Board will push back,” Bart Seitz, partner in the Washington office of Baker Botts LLP, told Bloomberg Environment. Seitz’s firm represents companies involved in Superfund site investigations and cleanups.

Though Pruitt has twice chosen excavation, Seitz said companies are waiting to see how he will approach other sites. Companies working on cleanup at the Texas site were unhappy with Pruitt’s choice to excavate the waste.

“I think industry’s going to be assessing it on a really site-specific basis,” Seitz said.

‘Decades of Study’

Bridgeton Landfill LLC, a subsidiary of Republic Services Inc. that’s been involved with the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, said in a Feb. 1 statement that it’s “pleased that the EPA has finally ended decades of study” and issued a proposed plan. Bridgeton, Rock Road Industries Inc., and Cotter Corp., as well as the Energy Department, all took part in the site’s investigation and were named potentially responsible parties in its cleanup.

Waste at the site includes radium and thorium mixed with municipal solid waste. A smoldering underground fire eventually could affect the waste, but it’s unclear whether the proposed remedy addresses that concern.

“You can’t even put a shovel in there until you move the people who are living across the street,” Lois Marie Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, told Bloomberg Environment.

The proposed remedy for the site will be open to public comment once it’s released. A draft document from the agency, issued in January, details several options for the site and specifies that radioactive material will be disposed off-site and the cleanup process will take five years.

Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D) both praised the EPA for making a decision.

(Corrects the fifth paragraph to clarify the most expensive option would have removed the radioactive waste and corrects a incorrect attribution in the eighth paragraph.)