Shared from the 1/3/2020 The Denver Post eEdition, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION, By Ellen Knickmeyer, Matthew Brown and Ed White The Associated Press
WASHINGTON» The Trump administration has built up the biggest backlog of unfunded toxic Superfund cleanup projects in at least 15 years, nearly triple the number that were stalled for lack of money in the Obama era, according to 2019 figures quietly released by the Environmental Protection Agency over the winter holidays.
The accumulation of Superfund projects that are ready to go except for money comes as the Trump administration routinely proposes funding cuts for Super-fund projects and for the EPA in general. The four-decade-old Superfund program is meant to tackle some of the most heavily contaminated sites in the U.S., and President Donald Trump has declared it a priority even while seeking to shrink its budget.
“There hasn’t been a sense of urgency,” said Violet Donoghue, who has lived for 31 years on Bon Brae Street in St. Clair Shores, Mich. Toxic PCBs have poisoned some local soil, water and fish at nearby Lake St. Clair, and the neighborhood is one of the 34 Superfund sites where cleanup projects languished for lack of money in 2019.
The unfunded projects are in 17 states and Puerto Rico. They range from abandoned mines that discharged heavy metals and arsenic in the West to an old wood pulp site in Mississippi and a defunct dry cleaner that released toxic solvents in North Carolina.
Congress created the Super-fund program in 1980 after the Love Canal episode and other notorious pollution cases. Its intent is to hold polluters responsible for cleanup costs or provide taxpayer money when no responsible party can be identified.
Trump “is focused on putting Americans first,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a Senate environment committee in early 2019. “There may be no better example than our success in the Superfund program.”
“They’re misleading Congress and the public about the funds that are needed to really protect the public from exposure to the toxic chemicals,” said Elizabeth Southerland, who worked for 30 years at the EPA, including as director of science and technology in the water office, before retiring in 2017. ‘’It’s detrimental.”
EPA spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage pointed to some areas where Trump’s Superfund effort was more on par with that of his predecessors. Long-term remedial efforts to make sure contamination didn’t rebound at existing Superfund sites, for example, averaged 64 a year under Trump. That compares with an average of 60 per year in Obama’s last five years.
But overall, the backlog of 34 unfunded projects is up from only 12 in 2016, Obama’s last year, and the most at least since 2004.
Under Trump, the EPA has pointed to a different yardstick in declaring it was making progress on Superfund cleanups — the number of cleaned-up sites officially deleted from the roster of more than 1,300 Superfund sites.
In 2019, for instance, the EPA said it had deleted all or part of 27 sites from the official Superfund list, saying that was the most deletions since the George W. Bush administration. But deletions from the list typically reflect cleanup work done over decades, meaning Trump is sometimes taking credit for work done under his predecessors.
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