In May 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convened a task force of career professionals to evaluate the agency’s Superfund cleanup policies and make recommendations for improvements. The Task Force issued recommendations in December 2017 (I wrote about them here), and has now issued its final report. The report includes multiple examples of accomplishments related to each of the Task Force’s five goals.
EPA Administrator’s May Guidance and Request
Former EPA Administrator Pruitt centered his May memo on the idea that Superfund site-related processes are too slow: “The process of evaluating the contamination at a site and developing the appropriate remedy can take years - if not decades-delaying remediation of the site and withholding the full beneficial use of the area from the local community.” To raise Superfund’s overall priority level within EPA’s activities, and to attempt to clean up sites faster in order to recycle them for marketable uses, he announced three steps:
Assigning himself to personally rule on site cleanup plans budgeted above $50 million, narrowing longstanding delegation from program and regional officials.
Requiring those officials to coordinate cleanup plan development more closely with his office.
Convening the Superfund Task Force to evaluate additional programmatic changes to Superfund cleanups.
Superfund Task Force Recommendations
In its July 2017 report, the Task Force defined five goals to pursue, and assigned EPA personnel to each. The September 2019 report identifies progress on each of these tasks, including guidelines issued and processes established, as well as direct progress at specific sites on the National Priorities List (NPL).
Goal 1: Expediting Cleanup and Remediation. This Goal focuses on acceleration of evaluation, cleanup and completion of National Priorities List (NPL) completion of NPL sites. The Final Report identifies several tools developed by the Task Force to accomplish this goal, including initiation of the Administrator’s Emphasis List, a list of sites targeted for the administrator’s immediate and intense attention. The Final Report states that EPA will continue using this List to focus on sites needing immediate and intense attention, and will update it quarterly.
Goal 2: Reinvigorating responsible party cleanup and reuse. This goal focuses on targeted enforcement and incentive policies, to encourage potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to begin and conduct work more quickly. It also includes administrative policies to facilitate and expedite action. The Final Report states that the Task Force developed new enforcement guidance for EPA’s regional offices to accelerate remedial design starts at PRP-lead Superfund sites. The Report also identifies a recommended settlement strategy, and encouragement to reuse outcomes so sites can attract more redevelopment to be considered by EPA regions as a matter of national practice.
Goal 3: Encouraging private investment. The Task Force was directed to develop and begin to apply “alternative and non-traditional approaches,” and to streamline more traditional practices such as comfort letters and settlement agreements with third parties. The Final Report identifies examples of progress toward this goal, and states that EPA plans to issue a memorandum by the end of 2019 to regional offices to promote these approaches where appropriate and in the interest of the Superfund Program.
Goal 4 – Promoting redevelopment and community revitalization. This goal called for efforts to facilitate site redevelopment and support ongoing information sharing, including efforts to build EPA and other agency capacity to facilitate local participation and redevelopment activities. The Final Report states that In Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, EPA achieved the goal sitewide “ready for anticipated use” at 51 sites, the highest total since FY 2013, and will continue these amplified efforts in subsequent years.
Goal 5: Engaging partners and stakeholders. The Task Force recommended additional efforts to engage key stakeholders, and the Final Report states that these efforts are underway. These include a new “Partnership and Stakeholder Engagement Strategy,” and a detailed plan to enhance risk communication.
Although this was the Task Force’s final report, EPA states that the agency will continue to implement newly-designed plans and policies, and to continue to create new ways to accomplish these policy priorities. The agency will continue to prioritize expediting cleanups to protect people’s health and the environment. In particular, EPA plans to:
Improve accountability and ensure the work continues in the future by tracking and reporting on progress using a new set of performance measures.
Conduct a portfolio review of every remaining NPL site to enable EPA to better utilize the Task Force’s tools and lessons learned.
Continue to identify and implement new opportunities and approaches to improve the Superfund program’s performance and effectiveness.
Obviously, the success of these efforts will depend on agency willpower and resources, as well as site-specific and general market conditions.
Is the organization involved with planning or execution of cleanup at any site on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL)?
As a potentially responsible party (PRP) or responsible party?
As a contractor or other service provider?
Is the organization considering or conducting any (re)development activities at a location containing or affected by an NPL site?
Where Can I Go For More Information?
Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements.
About the Author
Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years.
Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).
Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).
You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org