Environmental groups say EPA Superfund budget falls short

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) The Environmental Protection Agency's new administrator says he's making a new push to clean up polluted Superfund sites across the country, including some in our area, but some environmental groups say the administration's budget doesn't actually support that goal.

Toxic, hazardous, contaminated sites -- thousands of them across United States. In Vermont that includes 14 sites -- three old mines, 5 landfills, and six industrial sites.

The old Barge Street Canal off Pine Street in Burlington is one of those sites. A coal gasification plant once operated here. By 1966 it was gone, but it left behind toxic remnants from that plant.

Another site in the news is Hoosick Falls, New York. In the 90s, the Saint Gobain facility there used PFOA, a chemical since found in the village's drinking water. Hoosick Falls was just added to a list of national priorities.

"Hundreds of sites that have been on the list and languishing in ways that they shouldn't. We should have more priority and more focus to achieve better outcomes for those citizens across the country," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt recently created a Superfund Task Force to breath new life into the decades old program. It's recommending expedited cleanup, encouraging private investment in that clean up, and promoting redevelopment of the sites.

"Those individuals that are responsible to clean up are going to get accountability, and we're going to define the clean up, and then have a timeline that's going to be accountable as far as getting it remediated," Pruitt said.

Environmentalists say there's a big problem to get the companies to pay up -- many are no longer around. "The company that is responsible for the mess should be held responsible for cleaning it up. And unfortunately in many cases you see this a lot in abandoned mines -- there is no company left to do the clean up," said Matt Lee-Ashley with the Center for American Progress. He says it's the EPA's job to step in.
He doesn't see the agency making the changes they are touting because of the president's proposed cuts to Superfund money. "Cutting a third of the budget of the Superfund program does not reflect a commitment to clean ups, it's an abdication of the EPA's responsibility."

Three Superfund sites are currently being cleaned up in Vermont -- the Elizabeth Copper Mine, the Ely Copper Mine in Orange County, and the Commerce Street Plume in Williston. State officials tell WCAX that work is contingent on federal money.