Finding Bipartisanship in Environmental Disaster

Superfund sites remain some of the most ecologically damaged places in America. As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines them, these sites are “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.” Currently, there are over 1,300 sites in the United States.

As Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis at the Washington Post report, many Democrats view the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt as undergoing “a profound shift…under President Trump, in which the agency has reassessed its own data and analyses at the prompting of corporations. On pesticides, chemical solvents and air pollutants, Pruitt and his deputies are using industry figures to challenge past findings and recommendations of the agency’s own scientists.” (Washington Post)

However, Administrator Pruitt “has promised to put renewed attention on resolving these threats, some of which have lingered for decades” and has “argued the EPA could be more productive by focusing more on longstanding programs and problems, especially superfund cleanups.”

This includes the West Lake landfill in Missouri, which is “contaminated by lead, asbestos, radiation and other pollutants that can cause cancer, birth defects and other health and environmental harms.” The terrible ecological condition of the site has led to fears and suspicions that “waste likely has migrated off-site and smoldering garbage buried in another part of the landfill may be also threatening to heat the radioactive waste,” possibly causing ecological and health effects to the nearby communities. (Wall Street Journal)

Superfund sites are not only a focus of Republicans, however, as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has expressed a hope to “address this issue and be a more forceful advocate for providing the EPA with the resources it needs to clean up these toxic sites.” Likely unsurprising to most Americans, New Jersey has the most Superfund sites of any state, with half of the state’s residents living within three miles of a site. (NJ.com)

However, the other members of the Trump Administration have sent mixed signals about their positions on supporting Superfund site cleanup. In his 2018 budget, the President “proposed cutting the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites dotting the country by 30% from $1.09 billion to $762 million, saying EPA should be ‘focusing on reining in Superfund administrative costs and promoting efficiencies.” Republicans in the House, notably Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), approved an increase of $1.1 billion for the program instead, although Senate Republicans indicated they were more inclined to keep funding levels stable. (USA Today)

If interested in finding the closest Superfund site near you, the EPA has a user-friendly website.

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