WASHINGTON (CN) – The number of unfunded toxic Superfund cleanup projects accumulated under the Trump administration amount to the largest backlog in about 15 years, according to figures quietly released by the Environmental Protection Agency over the winter holidays.
The EPA released a report that shows 34 sites that still await federal funding. This means unfunded cleanup projects under the oversight-weary Trump administration nearly tripled that of the number stalled for lack of money by the last year of the Obama era.
The unfunded projects are in 17 states and Puerto Rico. These hazardous sites include abandoned mines that discharged heavy metals in the western part of the country, a defunct wood pulp site in Mississippi and a dry cleaner that released toxic solvents in North Carolina, according to the report.
Each year of his term, Trump has asked Congress for about one-third cuts in EPA’s budget, and has sought smaller cuts for the Superfund budget, a program meant to clean up some of the worst contaminated sites in the country.
The agency’s administrator, Andrew Wheeler, touted progress in 2019 after 27 sites had been at least partially deleted from the Superfund’s National Priorities List —creating the largest number of deletions in a single year since 2001 by confirming the sites were no longer toxic.
The EPA wiped 12 full sites and parts of 15 more sites last year from the list of nationally prioritized areas containing known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances or pollutants.
According to the agency, the NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation and clean up by the federal government.
“Thanks to the hard work of EPA career officials, the Superfund Task Force has strengthened the program in numerous ways, from accelerating cleanups to promoting redevelopment to improving community engagement,” Wheeler said in a September statement.
In the late 1970s, toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal garnered national attention when the public learned about the risks to human health and the environment posed by contaminated sites.
Congress in 1980 established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly called Superfund, which allowed the EPA to initiate cleanups.
According to the agency, the act also forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work.
When there is no viable responsible party, the agency says, Superfund gives EPA the funds and authority to clean up contaminated sites.
On Oct. 30, the Trump administration announced its plan to add more sites to the list, including small, potentially toxic areas within Delaware, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Illinois, New York and Kansas.
“Our commitment to communities with sites on the National Priorities List is that they are a true national priority,” Wheeler said.
He added: “Under the Trump administration, EPA has a renewed focus on the Superfund program. We are taking action to clean up some of the nation’s most contaminated sites, protect the health of communities, and return contaminated land to safe and productive reuse for future generations.”
But the agency’s newest report conveys a more dismal look at the administration’s funding of toxic cleanups by the EPA.