What’s next for the West’s Superfund sites?

Budget cuts threaten clean-up in the region’s most polluted areas.

 

On Aug. 1 the Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the fate of Superfund, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency. The meeting comes one week after the Superfund task force, which was created by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in May, released its first report with recommendations for cleanups of sites.

Old cars serve as a water break on Navajo Nation in Apache County, Arizona.

But the fate of the program may be threatened by budget cuts proposed to the EPA and the Superfund program, which will shrink by 30 percent if President Donald Trump’s budget is passed. Although Trump’s proposed cut to the EPA was expected, the deep cut to Superfund was not. Pruitt has previously said he does not support cutting the Superfund program and instead promised to prioritize it. “Unfortunately, many of these sites have been listed as Superfund sites for decades, some for as many as 30 years,” Pruitt wrote in an announcement of a Superfund Task Force in May. “This is not acceptable. We can — and should — do better.”

In her opening remarks, ranking committee member Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Pruitt is setting unrealistic expectations for what Superfund can accomplish with a skinny budget. “The rhetoric and the reality may not add up,” she said. “I would like to hear how the agency plans to accelerate the pace of cleanups while significantly cutting the sources of funding to do that cleanup.”

Much of the hearing Tuesday focused on just that: how the agency expects to address the more than 3,000 cleanup sites — not including a backlog of proposed sites that have yet to be evaluated by the agency — in the midst of drastic cuts to the agency. Katherine Probst, an independent consultant and policy analyst who previously worked for the EPA’s Superfund program, said proposed budget cuts to the agency don’t line up with Pruitt’s priorities for cleanup. “It’s hard to imagine you can do long-term cleanups with those kind of draconian cuts,” she told the committee. “Some have said that the responsibility to cleanup should move to the states. But few if any states have the resources to clean up a site of that federal cleanup magnitude.”

At the end of the hearing, Probst warned that while some components of Superfund may remain intact, the real cost would be “choking off the long-term cleanup program.” “There’s nothing in (the task force’s) report that says that, but that’s a danger,” she said. “That’s what I would caution.” Sen. Jerry Moan took it a step further: “A vision without funding is a hallucination.”

 For more information about Superfund sites, hover over the map. The map includes all sites determined to pose a real or potential threat to human health or the environment. It does not include proposed sites or withdrawn sites that the EPA determined did not pose a threat.
Source: EPA.

Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor at High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • SPORTING COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    To advance our mission, we are seeking a full-time Sporting Communications Coordinator to join our team, preferably in Montana or Colorado. (Due to COVID-19 all...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor, Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • ANCESTRAL LANDS ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...