EPA adds hazardous waste sites to priority list

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview for Reuters at his office in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday it is adding seven hazardous waste sites and proposing four new ones across the country to its list of national priorities, making them eligible to receive federal funding for cleanup.

The EPA has identified the Superfund program as one of its top priorities, the centerpiece of what it calls a “Back to Basics” approach to environmental protection, focusing more on cleaning up pollution and less on battling climate change.

“My goal as administrator is to restore the Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the agency’s core mission,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

At least four of the 11 sites the agency added or proposed have been in operation within the last two decades and have been contaminated from a variety of sources, including manufacturing, wood treatment and aircraft maintenance.

The Superfund program has been criticized over the years for its slow efforts to clean up hazardous waste sites, which now number more than 1,300 around the country.

While Pruitt said he wants to prioritize the program, he would do so with a smaller budget. The Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018 included a 31 percent cut for the EPA, including a similar reduction of the agency’s Hazardous Substance Superfund Account to $762 million.

Last week, Pruitt accepted the recommendations of a task force he set up in May to help restructure the Superfund program.

Among the group’s recommendations were for the administrator to focus on a “top-10” list of sites, directing resources to sites that have been on the national priority list for more than five years and inviting third parties to invest in priority cleanups.

Sites that have been cleaned up through the Superfund program can be reused.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Paul Simao