The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday a plan to restore its flagship Superfund cleanup program to its rightful place as a top agency priority, while holding off on wholesale reforms.
The EPA recommendations were developed by a task force established by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who gave the panel 30 days to pull together options on how to improve the Superfund program.
Pruitt said in a memo obtained by the Washington Examiner that his goal is to "restore the Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the agency's core mission." The memo said the task force put forth 42 recommendations that could be followed by substantive rulemaking procedures in the future. More than 1,300 cleanup sites have been designated by the EPA, which Pruitt wants to reprioritize and accelerate action to remediate.
"This document presents a set of recommendations that are reflective of the expectations of substantive action from the administrator," the executive summary from the task force report reads. However, it "does not represent all potential actions that may be needed in the future. Rather, it represents a good beginning that will lead to program efficiencies and identify areas for further refining."
The task force's report said any "refinement" to the program "will be the subject of close stakeholder engagement as we seek to strengthen our partnerships with all those involved in the Superfund process." The task force's "recommended actions in this document are reflective of this administrator's top priorities to reinvigorate and prioritize the Superfund program in a most expeditious manner."
Pruitt in the Tuesday memo directed senior agency officials and staff to begin implementing "expeditiously" 11 specific actions outlined by the task force, including taking "control over any site where the risk of human exposure is not fully controlled."
He is ordering EPA regional heads to report back to the chairman of the task force in 60 days to identify high-risk sites and to describe "when such risks are expected to be controlled," according to the memo.
Pruitt also is authorizing the use of "interim response actions, including removal authority or interim remedies" to address "immediate risks," the memo reads. "We should not allow for years of study to delay addressing immediate risks."
He also wants the regional offices to begin compiling status updates on the sites to see if any are ready for reuse for submission to the task force.
Pruitt also wants the EPA to begin working with potential responsible parties, including "real estate professionals," to identify opportunities for lead cleanup. Pruitt has made a priority of visiting with communities to discuss cleaning up major sites where lead in the water and soil poses a severe health risk.
He also wants EPA officials to use "enforcement" actions, including "unilateral orders" for responsible parties that resist taking action, "in order to discourage protracted negotiations over response actions."
Pruitt wants the agency to begin removing sites from the Superfund list and wants a report within 60 days from the regional offices with sites that could be taken off the program's priority list within the next 12 months.