Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced Nov. 18 a Government Accountability Office report that concludes the nation’s Superfund sites are underprepared to withstand the worsening impacts of climate change, putting human health and the environment at risk.
On Dec. 4, 2017, Democratic Members of the EPW Committee sent a letter asking GAO to review and assess the risks posed by climate change on Superfund sites. On Nov. 18, Democratic Members of the EPW Committee, along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, released the GAO report, “EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change,” in which GAO found that approximately 60% of Superfund sites across the country are facing risks with flooding, storm surges, wildfires and sea level rise. In the report, GAO cited some examples of Superfund sites that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey or threatened by wildfires — and concluded that many Superfund sites will be at increased risk in the coming decades.
The report also found that the Environmental Protection Agency has omitted climate change from its agency strategy and planning documents, meaning these risks are not being addressed in a consistent way at all Superfund sites across the country. The report’s findings make clear that the EPA must do more now and better plan to mitigate against the worsening impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, storm surges, flooding and more frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires.
These findings also come after the GAO’s biennial High Risk List report released earlier this year concluded that neither global or U.S. efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change, “approach the scales needed to avoid substantial damage to the U.S. economy, environment and human health over the coming decades.”
In reaction to GAO’s findings, Carper led several members of Congress in sending the report to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and, in a letter, underscoring GAO’s stark findings and demanding a full response about EPA’s failure to adequately plan for and address these risks.
“The Superfund program is not providing necessary resources and direction to regional officials that would help them assess and respond to site-specific risks due to climate change,” the members wrote. “The lack of resources for regional offices is a direct result of EPA headquarters’ failure to embrace addressing climate change as a strategic objective.”
“To address these shortcomings, GAO made several recommendations to EPA related to improving Superfund site information,” the members continued. “These recommendations state that the EPA should provide direction to regional offices on how to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into risk assessments and response decisions. GAO also recommends that EPA align the agency’s current goals and objectives with the need to address the effects of climate change. We believe that EPA’s refusal to implement GAO’s recommendations could result in real harm to human health and the environment as the effects of climate change become more frequent and intense.”
The full text of the letter can be found at bit.ly/2pu6L41.