EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced a set of Task Force recommendations that are aimed at improving the Superfund program. The Agency’s adoption of these recommendations is another indication that demonstrable change to CERCLA implementation is of interest to the Trump administration. It follows the EPA Administrator’s May 9 retraction of certain remedy selection authority from regional offices.
The 42 recommendations are contained in a report developed over the space of a month by a task force appointed by Administrator Pruitt. The recommendations are presented as an ambitious attempt to reorient the Superfund program, and a key aim is accelerating action on Superfund mega-sites. The report particularly emphasizes expediting cleanups and promoting redevelopment and community revitalization. The recommendations will require aggressive work from EPA staff to meet the schedules provided in the report.
The report closely follows key themes that the Administrator has previously emphasized: rapid, efficient implementation of CERCLA cleanups; a hands-on approach from EPA senior management for key Superfund mega-sites; and efforts to leverage the program to enhance site “reuse” and brownfields / community redevelopment.
Among the strategic initiatives identified for quick action are:
Most of the recommendations are scheduled for implementation within 30 to 180 days, so the fast time frames imposed for multiple deliverables may be the most significant element of the report. Several recommendations require establishing working groups, reaching out to PRPs for feedback on site redevelopment, preparing policy memos, or coordinating with the Department of Justice to create model documents to speed up settlement. These activities will need to occur on very tight timelines to meet the Administrator’s goals.
The recommendations would not alter the fundamentals of the CERCLA program, but could lead to flexibility on targeted issues and may lead to useful incentives for participation and private party investment for redevelopment. The most immediate impact, however, would likely be felt at sites selected for the “top 10 list” or those selected as pilots for new policies. Since many of the recommendations require additional policy development and implementation tasks, it is difficult to determine which recommendations may be realized.
With recommendations that span multiple topics and a short timeframe, there should be much news about program developments over the coming months. Going forward, PRPs should follow closely the policy development and may watch for opportunities for comment and for participation in pilots, two types of PRP input that could help to shape some of the recommendations into useful and effective modifications.