As we previously reported, the current administration set out to make Superfund reform a priority. Shortly after taking over as EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt convened a task force to provide recommendations for restructuring and streamlining the Superfund cleanup process. Over the summer, Administrator Pruitt endorsed 42 recommendations from the task force. The recommendations included, among others:

  • Developing a target list of sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) that are moving too slowly towards completion, including a Top 10 Administrator’s Emphasis List for sites that need “immediate and intense action.”
  • Encouraging the use of early or interim removal and remedial actions at complex sites.
  • Providing reduced oversight incentives, such as reduced oversight costs, to cooperative, high-performing potentially responsible parties (PRPs).
  • Discouraging PRPs from delaying the process through negotiation by actively using unilateral administrative orders.
  • Reducing financial assurance requirements for cooperating PRPs.
  • Identifying opportunities for third party oversight of PRP-led cleanups.
  • Encouraging integration of reuse outcomes into remedial planning.
  • Exploring liability transfer and risk management approaches at PRP-led cleanups.

Recently, however, EPA officials acknowledged that there are a number of hurdles to implementing the recommendations. Budget cuts and declining EPA staff could impact both EPA’s ability to swiftly take steps necessary to carry out the recommendations, as well as to conduct the necessary follow-up to ensure effective implementation. EPA officials have also acknowledged that some of the recommendations, such as third party oversight of cleanups, are subject to further review and refinement.

Despite these challenges, Superfund remains a priority at EPA, and it is getting more attention than it has in years past. EPA is already looking at ways to expedite cleanups and minimize protracted negotiations at PRP-led sites. In addition, because a number of the recommendations provide some level of flexibility, we might begin seeing PRPs attempting to use the recommendations to negotiate for novel or flexible approaches at individual sites, even in advance of sweeping implementation by EPA.