Approximately 70% of Superfund cleanup activities historically have been paid for by parties responsible (PRPs) for the cleanup of contamination. Until the mid-1990s, most of the funding for cleanup activities led by the government (where there was no PRP to pay for cleanup) came from a tax on the petroleum and chemical industries. Currently, virtually all funding for government-led cleanup sites under Superfund comes from general revenues or special accounts funded through settlements with PRPs. The Superfund program has experienced flat or declining budgets since 2009. Drilling down in the FY 2016 and proposed 2017 budgets, there is a modest proposed increase in the Superfund budget, with the largest increase for the remedial response program, which is used to fund long-term cleanup actions. The performance of the Superfund program can be evaluated in the pace at which NPL actions are taken and the key milestones are achieved. The pace of the program has been slowed by declining budgets. The number of construction completions has generally declined, as has the number of site deletions.
Operating costs of groundwater treatment systems represents a large and growing share of Superfund expenditures, and that cost impact is felt by EPA, states (which are responsible for long-term O&M costs at non-PRP lead sites), federal Superfund sites (e.g., Department of Defense and Department of Energy facilities), and of course, by the private sector at PRP-led sites. All of these parties are making targeted investments in technology to optimize both the characterization and cleanup process. This focus on optimization represents an important commitment to improve the program.
Over the past several years, EPA’s workforce has declined by over 2,000 employees. With that reduction in force, the ranks of EPA Superfund project managers, scientists, and engineers has significantly declined, as has the Agency’s staff of procurement professionals. As a result, EPA’s ability to keep pace with program needs has been substantially impacted.
For Brownfields, current funding levels are less than what is needed to optimize the benefits of this successful program. That shortfall has an impact on both pre-construction and construction activities. While some projects are deferred altogether due to lack of available funds, other projects progress in series of small phases, adding time and cost for achieving cleanup. In a 2011 study of Superfund costs conducted by the Government Accountability Office, EPA Regional officials estimated that the costs to perform timely and cost-effective remedial construction on existing projects on an annual basis was $253 to $414 million more than the expected budget.
Approximately 30% of grant proposals submitted to EPA for brownfields cleanup are funded. Many deserving projects that could significantly benefit communities aren’t getting funded. More funding would leverage more dollars and stimulate job growth and economic benefit, while improving the condition of the nation’s infrastructure. While the benefits of the brownfield program are evident in rural, suburban and urban settings, brownfields investment is particularly important for creating more economic opportunity and a positive impact on communities in the nation’s urban centers.
For RCRA, with facilities constantly changing, it is critical that states and EPA maintain sufficient expertise and resources to process permits in a timely manner and allow businesses, especially those in the manufacturing sector, the opportunity to adjust to variable markets. The challenge for the future is to improve efficiency, develop better permit status tracking, enhance compliance reporting, expand technical assistance to manufacturing and other waste generators, and improve and streamline permitting processes.Back to Hazardous Waste