Pruitt Pushing for More Thorough, Faster Superfund Cleanups

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By Sylvia Carignan

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is pushing for more thorough, faster superfund cleanups, a regional administrator said.

Pruitt is asking staff to go further and faster in discussions about superfund site remedies, according to regional staff, but those decisions have yielded mixed reactions from companies investing in superfund site cleanup.

"[Pruitt] wants to be as protective as possible,” EPA Region 2 Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan said at a Feb. 8 conference in Washington co-sponsored by the American Law Institute and Environmental Law Institute .

At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site outside Houston, companies involved with the site’s cleanup said Pruitt’s choice of remedy was less protective than the temporary waste-containment caps now at the site. Pruitt chose the same remedy previously recommended by the region.

In January, Pruitt announced a plan for the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site, where radioactive material is mixed with municipal solid waste.

A company involved at the site, Bridgeton Landfill LLC, a subsidiary of Republic Services Inc., said in a Feb. 1 statement that it is pleased the EPA released a plan to clean up the site.

At that site, Pruitt also chose the same remedy the region previously recommended.

Mega-Sites

Cleanup of superfund “mega-sites” is estimated to cost $50 million or more. Those sites could be abandoned mines, contaminated sediment along bodies of water, or former landfills. According to the EPA, about 130 non-federal superfund sites are mega-sites.

Once a site is placed on the National Priorities List, the EPA assesses its extent of contamination and determines the potential cost of cleanup through a remedial investigation and feasibility study.

In sharp contrast to Pruitt’s desire for speed, however, the pace of progress at mega-sites can be delayed by the complexity of the required cleanup required.

“You have new testing methods and remedial techniques being developed,” Larry Kirsch, partner and chairman of the energy and environmental practice at Goodwin Procter LLP in Washington, D.C., told Bloomberg Environment.

In 2017, the EPA identified nine mega-sites where Pruitt will make a cleanup decision. The San Jacinto River Waste Pits site was on that list, meaning eight more decisions are yet to come.

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