Bloomberg Law
July 11, 2018, 7:43 PM

EPA’s Acting Chief to Continue Superfund Emphasis

Sylvia Carignan
Sylvia Carignan

Superfund sites on the EPA’s priority list will continue to move toward accelerated cleanup and redevelopment, the agency’s acting administrator told employees.

Environmental Protection Agency acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a July 11 speech to employees that he will continue former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s list of priority Superfund sites. Pruitt assembled the list in December 2017 and personally made major decisions or sent representatives to cut through procedural roadblocks at sites on the list.

“We owe it to the American public, the families in those communities around those sites to remove the environmental risk and get those sites cleaned up,” Wheeler said at the agency’s Washington headquarters.

The shortlist originated from a set of more than 40 recommendations that Pruitt’s Superfund task force created nearly a year ago. The listed sites are in need of “immediate, intense action,” the agency said.

The list includes the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery Inc. in East Chicago, Ind.; Tar Creek in Oklahoma; and the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colorado.

Capping Waste Pits

The San Jacinto River Waste Pits outside Houston was the first to fall under Pruitt’s Superfund review. The site was hit by Hurricane Harvey, whose floodwaters took more than a month to recede, according to the agency.

The EPA directed the companies that were already paying for remediation there to repair the waste pits’ protective caps. Pruitt decided last October that the companies should excavate more than 212,000 cubic yards of the waste as part of a comprehensive cleanup plan.

The companies, International Paper and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp., previously told Bloomberg Environment they didn’t support the plan because it was less protective than the temporary cap already installed on site. Once Pruitt decided on the San Jacinto River site’s final remedy, he removed it from his priority list.

It’s unclear right now what kind of Superfund site remedies Wheeler could choose. He’s a former energy lobbyist who represented Murray Energy Corp. and other companies.

The EPA’s Superfund program works to clean up sites contaminated by hazardous substances. There are about 1,300 Superfund sites.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at