Greens sue to force EPA Superfund rule

A coalition of environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to mandate financial responsibility requirements for certain polluting industries.

The rule was required under a 1980 law that established the Superfund program to oversee cleanup of contaminated sites. The EPA has to write rules to make sure companies had the financial means to clean certain pollutants, the green groups said.

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“The Superfund Act was written to protect the public from hazardous spills and pollution and to hold violators accountable,” Amanda Goodin, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in a Monday statement.

“Thirty years later, we see polluters gaming the system, declaring bankruptcy, opting out of their financial obligations and skipping town on their messes. Residents are left with poisoned soil and water; taxpayers are stuck with a hefty cleanup bill.”

Earthjustice linked the financial assurance rule to chemical spill in West Virginia earlier this year that got into water supplies and led to a do-not-drink order for hundreds of thousands. Freedom Industries, which owned the chemical facility, filed for bankruptcy shortly after the spill, because it did not have the money to clean it up.

Some of the groups in the case sued in 2009 to force the EPA’s hand. The judge in the case compelled the EPA to identify which industries would be subject to financial assurance rules, but the agency did not have to write the rules themselves.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said her agency is developing a proposed financial assurance rule that would apply to hard rock mines and mineral processing facilities.

EPA is not expecting to publish the proposal until August 2016. Nonetheless, Purchia said it is a “high-priority” rulemaking.

The lawsuit came weeks after Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and others introduced a bill to reinstate the Superfund tax, which expired in 1995. The Superfund tax was meant as another measure to prevent the public from being forced to pay for contamination cleanup, through taxes on various chemical and petroleum industries.

—This story was updated at 4:51 p.m.