Democrats demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years

Democrats demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years
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Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explain a drop in the number of hazardous waste sites that the agency cleaned up last year. 

The figures show that the agency had the highest number of unfunded construction projects at major hazardous waste sites of the last 15 years.

In 2019, the EPA did not have funding to begin work on 34 so-called Superfund sites, a number more than 50 percent above the highest figures from the Obama administration.

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“Unfortunately the increase in the number of unfunded cleanup of Superfund sites follows repeated proposed budget cuts to the superfund program and raises concerns the EPA is failing to effectively implement this program,” Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteOvernight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking House passes Protecting America's Wilderness Act Vaping execs tell lawmakers that e-cigarettes are not meant for young people MORE (D-Colo.) wrote in a late Thursday letter to the EPA, asking for a briefing from the agency as well as any plans to address the issue.

The EPA said it is in the process of teeing up a number of projects at Superfund sites.

"This translates to 40+ more communities being closer to having their sites cleaned up and deleted off the National Priorities List," the agency said in an email to The Hill.

"While Congressional funding for Superfund has remained essentially flat over the last 15 years, the number of newly funded projects at sites can be smaller or larger in a particular year due to the actual cost of the active projects."

 

But critics previously said the data highlights the dangers of the agency’s continued push to reduce its own budget.

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“Every year the president's budget says they want to cut the Superfund budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and every year Congress says no,” Betsy Southerland, director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water under the Obama administration, told The Hill previously. 

But as lawmakers instead give the EPA the same funding as the year before, that flatlining has real consequences, she said.

“The Trump administration is not telling Congress the honest number of dollars they need to fund all the projects that are ready to go,” Southerland said. “Congress thinks it’s doing the best possible thing by rejecting the cuts, but they’re not increasing the budget, so projects that are sitting in 2017, are sitting in 2018, and then sitting in 2019.”

Updated at 6:18 p.m.