EPA watchdog to probe Superfund Task Force

EPA watchdog to probe Superfund Task Force
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The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) internal watchdog is probing a task force former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE launched to help with contaminated Superfund site cleanups.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the audit Friday in a public letter, saying its goal is “to determine whether the EPA followed applicable criteria, such as laws and rules” in creating and operating the task force.

“The anticipated benefit of this project is enhanced use of appropriate public participation and transparent science in EPA’s decision-making,” the OIG said. The office initiated the audit project itself.

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Pruitt launched the task force in May 2017 as part of his effort to prioritize Superfund cleanups. He often used Superfund sites to criticize the Obama administration, blaming his predecessor for not giving sufficient attention to cleanups.

The task force is staff with EPA officials and was formerly led by Albert “Kell” Kelly, a banker and friend of Pruitt’s from Oklahoma who helped him finance numerous expenses before federal officials banned him from banking for life.

The group released a 34-page list of recommendations for Pruitt in July 2017, including to create a special list of Superfund sites to get the highest attention from EPA leadership.

But the task force was very secretive, releasing little about its internal operations. In response to a records request by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the EPA said the task force did not generate any records beyond the recommendations, such as agendas or minutes.

Nonetheless, the EPA has touted the task force’s work and other Trump administration actions on Superfund.

The agency has removed nine sites from the Superfund list this year because the cleanups are complete, the most in a year since 2014. But cleanups take years, so much of the work on those sites predated the Trump administration.