Home > Uncategorized > Oversight Of Toxic Site Cleanup Is Not A Local Government Responsibility

Oversight Of Toxic Site Cleanup Is Not A Local Government Responsibility

Cleanup Decisions Are The Responsibility of Government Regulators, Not Corporations

Christie DEP Supported EPA capping scheme

Activist Political Pressure Must Target The Actual Levers of Power

This stuff makes me nuts.

To be clear, I think it’s great that local residents in Ringwood are petitioning their local government to nix a dirty deal with Ford that would allow Ford to cap the Superfund site there and avoid millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Bergen Record:

The EPA had been poised to order a full removal when the borough decided to build a recycling center on the site, causing the EPA to agree that placing a barrier over the pollution would be an appropriate solution. The move lowers Ford and the borough’s cleanup bill from $32.6 million for excavation to $5.4 million for the capping plan. Ford will pay for the recycling facility.

But in doing so, the role of local government in cleanup decisions is distorted and the press coverage makes corrupt corporate “negotiations” appear legitimate.

Ford should have no role – none – in choosing the cleanup plan. Ford’s only role in the cleanup plan should be to pay for it.

Government regulators should make cleanup decisions on the basis of protecting public health and the environment and should ORDER  – not negotiate with – Ford to implement cleanup plans.

The press coverage muddies the water on these fundamentals and fails to convey the regulatory reality and target and clearly hold the actual decision-maker accountable.

For example, see this, from the Bergen Record:

Chuck Stead, a professor of environmental studies at Ramapo College, told the group that Ford had removed 97,000 tons of toxic material from Rockland County because local officials put pressure on the company.

“It’s more than a doable thing,” he said of excavating Ringwood. “To me the only difference between the New York and New Jersey side of the state line is the political will.”

No doubt local officials – who just so happen to pay Professor Stead – put pressure on the company.

But local officials and the company did not make the cleanup decision.

The cleanup of the Ford Rockland County site was conducted under the State of New York’s cleanup program and oversee by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The DEC made the decision, not local government. (read it here)

NYSDEC developed the proposed remedy after reviewing the detailed investigation of the site and evaluating the remedial options in the “feasibility study” submitted under New York’s State Superfund Program by Ford Motor Company.

Next Steps

NYSDEC will consider public comments as it finalizes the remedy for the site. The selected remedy will be described in a document called a “Record of Decision” that will explain why the remedy was selected and respond to public comments.

The cleanup of the Ford Ringwood NJ site is overseen by US EPA under the federal Superfund program.

EPA is in charge of making the cleanup decision in Ringwood.

But EPA has effectively abdicated that responsibility by allowing the Ringwood local government to collude with Ford to alter the EPA’s preferred cleanup plan (excavation) and allow the site to be capped.

This is a gross abuse of the Superfund cleanup law.

If Professor Stead were honest, he would blast EPA for allowing this to happen, instead of creating the false appearance that local officials in NY drove the NY DEC’s cleanup decision.

In terms of political will, of course the correct comparisons are between: 1) NY DEC and New Jersey’s DEP; 2) NY DEC and US EPA and 3) local governments in Ringwood, NJ and Ramapo, NY.

The Christie DEP would look very bad by this comparison – but once again, NJ DEP escapes any accountability for the fact that the Christie DEP SUPPORTED the corrupt EPA capping plan.

The NJ DEP concurred with the EPA approved Ford scheme (see Appendix V of the ROD for DEP letter),

DEP should get just as  strongly criticized as EPA.

In practice, States are given a far stronger role in Superfund cleanup decisions than the law and EPA regulations actually provide for, i/e

State concurrence on a ROD is not a prerequisite to EPA’s selecting a remedy, i.e., signing a ROD, 

Under EPA policy, State’s are asked to concur with EPA proposed Superfund decisions – and EPA almost always bows and defers to State preferences. (After my criticism, EPA has taken down links to their concurrence policy – searching for fresh links now. Here is EPA model State concurrence letter for NPL listing decisions.).

That is a another bad EPA policy that also escapes any accountability in the news coverage.

If the policy flaws and decision-makers are not identified, they are not likely to be fixed and held accountable.

That’s why it’s important to get this stuff right.

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