WASHINGTON — Cleaning up the hazardous waste at Superfund sites is taking too long and the fact that some sites from the original 1980 list have not been fixed is “embarrassing,” a member of the House Subcommittee on Environment said Thursday during a hearing.
The Superfund program was signed into law in 1980, identifying sites with known or threatened releases of hazardous substances throughout the country. As of November, there were over 1,000 sites on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List, 21 of which have been flagged for “immediate and intense attention.” Committee members called for updating the the program to speed the cleanup process.
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the EPA would cut funds for the Superfund program, even though lawmakers called for an increase, according to EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Land and Emergency Management Barry Breen.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said the committee should investigate the “controversial and, frankly, confounding implementation decisions being made by President (Donald) Trump, Administrator Scott Pruitt and the rest of the political leadership at EPA.”
Committee members criticized the EPA’s Superfund Task Force for moving too slowly and said they all agreed that the cleanup process needs to be modernized.
In response to a question from Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., Breen said Task Force meetings have not been open to the public.
“There has been a shocking lack of transparency,” Tonko said.
Breen, who was the main witness at the hearing, said he wanted to clarify that the group is meant to work internally within the EPA, not as an “external federal advisory committee.”
Pallone said the EPA has published two new lists of Superfund sites with no public process.
“This administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid transparency with the public and Congress,” he said. “We must hold this administration accountable, but that is simply not happening under this Republican majority.”
Pallone also criticized EPA Senior Adviser Albert Kelly for not testifying Thursday. Kelly led the Superfund Task Force but did not testify at the hearing due to “unavoidable conflicts.”
Many committee members said they were concerned about the safety of their constituents who are affected by the hazardous waste sites.
“Many endangered communities are being ignored, even as Administrator Pruitt declares the Superfund to be his top priority,” Pallone said.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called on the Task Force to clean up the Superfund sites in her district.
“This should not be taking 15 or 20 years,” she said. “We know that process has to speed up.”
Committee members also said the Trump administration’s disregard for the effects of climate change will affect the Superfund sites.
“If we fail to enforce all of our environmental laws, not just regarding the Superfund, we will continue to create new dangerous sites,” Rep. Jerry Mcnerney, D-Calif., said. “Despite evidence that climate change will make Superfund sites more dangerous, and potentially create new additional Superfund sites, the Trump administration and the Pruitt EPA are undermining and rolling back efforts to fight climate change.”