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ICYMI: EPA making progress on Superfund

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EPA Making Progress on Superfund

By: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler
Billings GazetteExit
July 29, 2020

This is an important year for the Environmental Protection Agency and for America’s environment. This year marks the agency’s 50th anniversary and commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Superfund clean-up program, which was created to address America’s most contaminated properties. Throughout July, EPA is highlighting the success of programs like Superfund as part of our “Cleaning Up and Reusing America’s Land” month.

During the Trump Administration, criteria air pollutant emissions have dropped 7% — making air quality the best it’s been since modern record keeping began — and our water is among the cleanest on the planet. I am proud of these accomplishments, and I look forward to continuing our important work in these areas.

Lesser known, but equally significant, is our success cleaning up thousands of contaminated properties over the past four decades. In 1980, Congress established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, informally known as Superfund, which allows EPA to clean up contaminated sites and forces parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. EPA evaluates sites and places the most contaminated sites on the Superfund National Priorities List. Since the creation of the Superfund program, EPA, other federal agencies, states and private parties have spent billions of dollars cleaning up these contaminated lands.

Under President Trump’s leadership, EPA has re-prioritized cleaning up contaminated sites. When a site is on the National Priorities List, it should be just that: a priority. Superfund sites disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities, and in too many cases, progress has slowed, leaving these communities in limbo as they wait for the bureaucracy to take action.

From the moment the president asked me to run the EPA, I made it a priority to get Superfund sites cleaned up and ready for reuse. As a result, America is seeing swifter progress being made than we have seen in years. Over the last three years, EPA has fully or partially removed 57 sites from the National Priorities List. In Fiscal Year 2019 alone, we fully or partially removed 27 sites – the largest number of removals in a single year since Fiscal Year 2001. This is significant because removing a site from the list is not easily done. It is a rigorous process that requires state concurrence as well as public comment.

Being on the National Priorities List can stigmatize communities. Completing cleanups by removing sites (or even portions of sites) from the list signals that communities are ready for re-investment, as well as the economic growth and jobs that come with it. When sites linger on the list, the surrounding communities are burdened with uncertainty about their futures. This has undermined tax bases and property values for the 16% of the country’s population that lives within three miles of a Superfund site.

States across the nation are receiving long-awaited attention from the EPA as a result of the Trump Administration’s renewed priorities. In Libby, Montana, EPA removed a portion of an asbestos contaminated site from the National Priorities List — a significant milestone at a site that ranks among the agency's most challenging — reflecting the progress EPA and its partners continue to make in cleaning up and restoring these properties. Senator Steve Daines has been a champion in working to bring attention to, prioritize, and secure funding for sites in Montana. The addition of the Silver Bow Creek site in Butte to the Administrators’ Emphasis List brought the intense focus needed to help the parties, who had been stuck for over a decade, reach an agreement to conduct significant additional work. EPA also fast-tracked cleanup of the Anaconda Co. smelter site in Anaconda by setting a deadline to reach a comprehensive cleanup agreement.

By reprioritizing sites that have been mired in red tape to the detriment of surrounding areas, EPA is helping these communities make a well-deserved comeback after suffering years of missed opportunities. Site removals erase the Superfund stigma and attract economic investment. Today, roughly 1,000 Superfund sites have been reused or redeveloped, supporting over 9,000 businesses that provide more than 200,000 jobs. These businesses have generated more than $326 billion in sales in the past decade.

As EPA’s 50th Anniversary approaches, we celebrate the remarkable strides America has made over time, ensuring a clean environment for all our citizens no matter where they live. We know that environmental improvement and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. With President Trump’s continued prioritization of Superfund site cleanup, EPA will ensure this progress continues.

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