Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s reversal of former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has promised to speed up the cleanup process in toxic Superfund sites.
The sites, according to NPR, will be categorized into a list of top 10 topic waste sites the EPA intends to focus on. Among these potential top 10 sites is Tar Creek in northeast Oklahoma.
“We took them up top a [mining waste] pile and they can see, for miles, the effects Tar Creek has had on the environment, on the community,” said Craig Kreman, leader of the Superfund site cleanup.
Tar Creek, one of the EPA’s first listed Superfund sites back in 1983, was one of the largest sources of zinc and lead in the world for years. However, while up to 69% of North America’s steel is recycled annually, the materials leftover from harvesting these metals between the 1940s and the 1970s was simply left behind.
The result was Tar Creek’s Superfund site: 300 miles of toxic dust, water, and caverns. Pruitt was asked how he plans to speed up the process of cleaning these Superfund areas such as Tar Creek when President Trump’s budget slashed the program’s funding by a third. Pruitt responded that the agency would be able to carry on as usual.
“It’s more about decision-making, leadership, and management than money,” Pruitt said. However, independent consultant Kate Probst, who has studied the program for 20 years, doesn’t share the same confidence.
According to Probst, funding for the Superfund program has been a challenge for years. Prior to 1995, funding stemmed from taxes paid by the chemical and crude oil companies that made the sites. After 1995, funding came from taxpayer money, which has declined as well over 20 years.
“They don’t have the money to clean up an average Superfund site in most states,” said Probst. “They just don’t have $25 million.”
Environmental improvements across the U.S. have been gradually making ground. For instance, LED lights, which use only 15% of the energy produced by halogen lights, have been slowly becoming the American standard light bulb. And organic food has been slowly becoming the American food preference, which is not only favorable to the environment but also to physical health. Organic grass-fed beef contains up to seven times the beta carotene of grain fed.
Unfortunately for Superfund sites, the cleanup of these toxic wastes isn’t the kind of environmental change average American families can make. According to the EPA inspector general, Superfund cleanups slowed during the Obama administration due to under-staffing. Probst agrees but also points to chemical companies slowing their cleanup, the lack of data regarding health hazards of certain Superfund sites, and technical problems.
EPA adviser Albert Kelly reports that the future goal for Superfund sites is to clear what Probst refers to as bureaucratic red tape. With less funding, he said, the EPA can’t do any more than it’s been doing. However, by aggressively focusing on a lower number of sites, the results may be greater.