Environment, Trump Administration

Taking the fun out of Superfund: What’s at stake when Trump and Company gut the EPA

In the mountains, near the Pisgah Forest, and small-town neighborhoods. In cities, like Raleigh, and military bases, such as Camp Lejeune. Throughout North Carolina,  39 Superfund sites are polluted with dry cleaning solvents, mining tailings, wood preservatives and chemicals that have long been outlawed such as DDT and PCBs.

These sites are in varying stages of clean up, but they all have certain characteristics in common: They are highly contaminated. The clean up costs total in the millions of dollars. And often the companies responsible for the contamination can’t be found, are dodging accountability or have gone bankrupt.

Since 1980, the EPA’s Superfund program has helped states and contractors connect residents to drinking water, to contain groundwater plumes, to excavate millions of tons of contaminated soil. For sure, the Superfund program is imperfect. It moves too slowly. It doesn’t always adequately remediate the sites. Communities often disagree with the agency’s cleanup methods. A lack of funding is part of the problem — a problem that, if President Trump gets his way, will get even worse.

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts the EPA’s Superfund account by $330 million — about a third. These sharp decreases are part of Trump’s overall gutting of the agency, which he has (falsely) accused of implementing and enforcing “job-killing regulations.”

These funding cuts means fewer sites nationwide will be cleaned up, leaving contamination to fester or expand beyond its source. (And notably, there are jobs associated with remediating these projects.) The identification of new sites will be curtailed. Polluters will be able to walk away from their messes, in some cases with impunity.

Polluters will be able to walk away from their messes, in some cases with impunity Click To Tweet

Some communities in North Carolina are burdened with more than one Superfund project — not including other hazardous waste sites operated by the state. North Belmont, for example, has two Superfund sites, as do Aberdeen and Fayetteville. The Wilmington area, including the historic African-American community of Navassa, has five.

Through settlement agreements, the EPA often extracts funds from what are known as “potentially responsible parties.” Recently, the EPA reached a $610,000 settlement with Domtar Paper for its role in contributing to contamination at the 11-acre Ward Transformer Superfund site in Raleigh. This agreement is in addition to a $5.5 million settlement between 173 companies and the EPA that was announced last September.

For more than 20 years, PCB-tainted oil leaked from Ward Transformer, contaminating downstream waterways — Lake Crabtree, Crabtree Creek, Brier Creek Reservoir and parts of the Neuse River, which all have fish advisories. Even $6 million won’t cover all of the clean up costs. And no amount of money can undo the harm that will linger downstream for decades.

The public can comment on the terms of the agreement with Domtar through April 24. U.S. Mail: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Superfund Division, Attn: Paula V. Painter, 61 Forsyth Street SW., Atlanta, Georgia 30303 or via email at Painter.Paula@epa.gov .

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