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Pruitt Orders EPA To Begin Cleaning Highly Polluted Sites Quicker, Hold Polluters Accountable

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a memorandum Tuesday that seeks a more aggressive approach to hold polluters accountable and to engage affected communities more effectively.

Pruitt’s directive accompanied a report EPA released with 42 recommendations and five goals to improve the agency’s Superfund program, which has let hundreds of America’s most polluted sites remain contaminated for decades — often to the danger of humans.

“This is something, from the agency prospective, that should be a priority,” Pruitt told reporters. “It is our responsibility to get accountability and to remediate and to restore those communities.”

Pruitt wants the EPA to assess sites quickly and develop more accurate clean-up plans based on data and community input before bringing the strategies and independent cost assessments to polluters. Pruitt’s plan intends to begin decontamination at sites more quickly and force greater accountability on polluters, especially when there is a greater risk to humans.

“Those companies need to be held responsible,” Pruitt said. “It is the responsibility and job of this agency to bring accountability with those companies. The voice of the community … has been, not ignored, but not emphasized. That community participation is important early and often. We need to make sure we hear their voices early in the process.”

Pruitt pointed out that the EPA has not decided on a cleanup plan at 106 sites after being part of the Superfund program for at least five years. Similarly, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group found as many as 302 Superfund sites endanger nearby humans – 117 of which have been part of the program for more than 30 years.

“You can’t spend years and years trying to decide what is the clean up,” Pruitt said. The Superfund program “shouldn’t be a list that you never get off. One of the most important things for us to do is just to decide, for us to lead.”

There are more than 1,300 Superfund sites listed and less than 400 have been fully decontaminated, TheDCNF previously reported. Clean-up for those sites took 13 years on average.

The EPA plan also calls for regional offices to identify sites where there is risk that humans will be exposed to pollution. Pruitt also hopes to publish a list of 10 exemplary Superfund sites that are especially contaminated in September.

He pointed to a site near St. Louis polluted with lead and uranium that has been on the Superfund list for 27 years.

“That’s not the time taken to clean it up,” Pruitt said. “It’s the time taken to make a decision to clean it up.”

Litigation from accused polluters – often companies trying to avoid responsibility or claiming that clean-up costs are too high – is a frequent cause for decontamination delays. But Pruitt hopes that quicker, more accurate and more aggressive decision-making will help avoid lawsuits.

“What’s caused there to be friction and tension and litigation is improper action in the beginning,” he told reporters.

Tuesday’s report and Pruitt’s memorandum are the results of a task force he created in May, directing it to find improvements for the Superfund program. The investigation included interviews with at least 80 individuals and unsolicited input from career EPA employees who felt “empowered” by the agency’s interest, he said.

Pruitt also emphasized that his plan may not result in cleanups being completed faster, so much as quicker action, including more immediate decontamination.

“You shouldn’t do things more quickly just to get them done quickly,” he said. “Some of the sites are going to take longer to clean than others.”

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