In a break with long-standing policy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken back authority to approve remedies costing $50 million or more at Superfund sites effective immediately. According to the delegation of authority memo issued on May 9, 2017, the purpose of these revisions is to promote accountability and consistency in the remedy selection process and encourage speedier remediation and revitalization of contaminated sites.

Superfund is a program established under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances. The lead agency has primary responsibility for coordinating a cleanup, and is often a state environmental protection agency or regional office. Under this revised delegation of authority, however, when the remedy or remedial alternative selected in the Record of Decision (ROD) is estimated to cost more than $50 million, lead agencies will have to involve the administrator’s office in developing and evaluating remedy alternatives and the selection of the remedy.

Pruitt’s memo appears to be aimed at sediment and mining “mega-sites” with complex and unique contaminants that can be extremely costly and continue to be a challenge for the Superfund program. The stated reason for this change—to encourage expedited remediation and revitalization of contaminated sites—is consistent with the Trump Administration’s stated goal of streamlining development projects at environmentally impacted property. This policy, however, will likely add delay into remedy approvals and lead to an altered relationship between potentially responsible parties and the regional offices of EPA in developing remedies. Please contact any member of the Schiff Hardin Environmental Group with questions.

On May 22, 2017, Administrator Pruitt issued a new memorandum appointing a Superfund task force. The memo called for recommendations about how EPA can overhaul the cleanup process to be more streamlined and efficient, and less burdensome. By June 21, 2017, the task force is to provide recommendations on how to promote consistent remedy selection, reduce agency overhead costs, use alternative approaches to finance cleanups, and promote the revitalization of contaminated properties. The intended purpose of the task force is to shrink the size of remedial actions and the time and cost required to bring Superfund sites to completion, something attractive to most potentially responsible parties.