Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Waste Management as a responsible party for the cleanup of the San Jacinto Waste Pits. The responsible party is McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp., a non-operating separate entity that is owned by Waste Management of Texas, Inc., a subsidiary of Waste Management.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released on Friday a list of 21 Superfund sites that are targeted for "immediate and intense action." The list is not the 21 most contaminated or 21 largest sites. Rather, according to the EPA, they are sites that "will benefit from [EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's] engagement or directed attention to facilitate near-term progress."
- According to the EPA, the list does not indicate a commitment for additional funding. Rather, the sites on the list present opportunities for Pruitt to "act quickly and comprehensively." Each site is given an upcoming issue or milestone for direct action. Once those milestones are achieved, sites will come off the list.
- The list includes the West Lake Landfill in Missouri, the San Jacinto Waste Pits in Houston and the USS Lead site in Indiana. Other sites are spread among the EPA's 10 regional offices. The agency said the list is "intended to be dynamic," and sites will move on and off the list as milestones are achieved.
Pruitt said the EPA would create a list of 10 sites to target earlier in the Trump administration. While some sites appeared to be hinted at, there was no clear indication when the list would be announced, which sites would be included or what the agency meant when it said it would "aggressively address" the sites.
Since then, according to the agency, Pruitt determined there were more sites than just 10 that would be served from "his direct engagement at this stage." The EPA included a list of actions Pruitt might take, including supporting negotiations with responsible parties, facilitating remedy decisions and facilitating dialogue on redevelopment opportunities.
Republic Services owns the West Lake Landfill site, making it of particular interest to the industry. In September, the EPA said possibilities for the site included a partial or complete excavation or a new cap on the site. The EPA's milestone for the site on the new list is to "develop a preferred alternative and issue proposed plan." While the agency has not yet offered specifics for what that plan may look like, Pruitt said in a statement he's charged the Superfund Task Force with "immediately and intently" developing plans for sites across the country that are contaminated with toxic waste.
The San Jacinto Waste Pits site is also on the list. The latest update from Houston indicated that cleanup could be stalled by ongoing negotiations with responsible parties, including McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. (MIMC), a subsidiary of Waste Management of Texas, Inc. The next step listed on the new list is to "initiate and complete" remedial design and action negotiations and to sign a consent decree.
Pruitt has prioritized Superfund cleanup since taking his post at the head of the EPA. While this has included criticizing the past inaction of the agency, it has also included direct action in introducing cleanup plans for contaminated sites around the U.S. Making progress on contaminated sites is an easy way for Pruitt and the EPA to show success under the administrator's "back to basics" agenda.
While cleaning sites is an obvious positive for affected communities, this will increase the focus on companies that are deemed responsible parties, such as Republic in Missouri and MIMC in Texas. However, the agency has listed "engaging with partners and stakeholders" and "encouraging private investment" as overarching goals for the list, so it is likely that private companies will be involved from the early stages of any cleanup or remediation negotiations.