While the private sector is mobilizing to invest more in recycling and in updating the waste management system in the U.S., it’s clear they can’t do it alone.
At least 60% of U.S. Superfund sites are in the “areas vulnerable to flooding or other worsening disasters of climate change,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report titled EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change.
“We recommend it provide direction on integrating climate information into site-level decision making to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment,” GAO said, noting the EPA took “some actions to manage risks.”
Among its calls to action, GAO urges EPA to “clarify how EPA’s actions to manage risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites align with the agency’s current goals and objectives ” and provide “direction on how to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into risk assessments at nonfederal NPL sites.”
All of the GAO recommendations would require explicit acknowledgement of the impact of climate change on these sites by the EPA.
Superfund sites are some of the most polluted sites in the country and were designated as such in 1980.
The report is the latest sign of the Trump administration increasingly at odds with some of its own agencies and independent scientists when it comes to climate change, its impact on U.S. infrastructure and the environment, and how it should be addressed. Specifically, the issue is that the current EPA sees Superfunds sites and their vulnerability as separate from climate change.
GAO researched reviews 1,571 Superfund sites across the country, which exist “due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open or otherwise improperly managed.”
The report found that at least 945 out of 1,571 sites are “at great risk of floods, storm surge from major hurricanes, wildfires or sea-level rise of three feet or more,” AP reported.
“A few decades ago, the idea that humans could change the climate of our planet was unthinkable. Now this is incontrovertible and we are talking about the risk of irreparable damage.”
GAO officers appealed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Andrew Wheeler to acknowledge the risk presented by changing climate, according to the AP.
Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator, has been criticized for inadequate response to climate change.
“We’re addressing climate change,” Wheeler said at a National Press Club event in June. “We’re taking climate change seriously and implementing the laws that Congress has given us.”
The EPA official said the government is taking action on ACE (Alliance for Climate Education) regulation, CAFE and methane.
“We need to take a more realistic look at all the worst-case scenarios going forward,” he said at the event. “There is a lot of uncertainties when you get to 50-75 years out. We need to better understand those uncertainties and do a much better job of explaining to people what they mean.”
Wheeler noted the Obama administration focused too much on climate change at the expense of other initiatives, giving as an example the superfund program.
He said that the current administration delisted 22 sites last year and promised to have a “similar number delisted this year.”
“I’m personally taking a lot of time on these Superfund sites and briefings by the staff to make sure we’re selecting the right remedy to get these sites cleaned up and get past the lawsuits and legal maneuvering from the responsible parties, trying to make sure we can get these sites cleaned up and back in productive use and safeguard the people who live around those sites.”
As EPA takes time to set priorities or act on climate change across the board, we may soon discover it’s too late.
Many scientists, public personalities and experts are increasingly warning of irreversible damage and why we need to act now.
“A few decades ago, the idea that humans could change the climate of our planet was unthinkable,” David Attenborough said recently in an interview with University of Cambridge. “Now this is incontrovertible and we are talking about the risk of irreparable damage. Rising temperatures mean parts of the planet are becoming uninhabitable. Species less able to adapt to rapid changes will be wiped out. Famine will lead to forced migrations. There will be major upsets in natural boundaries, leading to social unrest.”