The following is an anonymous op-ed commentary received from a former EPA official. If you would like to submit an op-ed for publication, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to [email protected]
It is certainly a good idea to ask: “How many “Camp Lejeunes” do we have?”
I asked that question many times during the 26 years I worked as an enforcement and legislative counsel in EPA HQ’s Federal Facilities Enforcement Office. But none of the top career managers nor the political appointees above them seemed interested in finding the answers.
Indeed, I discovered quite late in the game senior career managers in multiple EPA offices had kept information from me on more than one matter to avoid my blowing the whistle.
It wasn’t until late in 2014 I discovered the answers to all my questions. The answers I found shocked me into realizing I had to leave the Agency, for I could no longer justify continuing to defend EPA’s enforcement authority from DOD’s attempts to take it away. I retired in 2015.
What I found leads me to say I think it also a good idea to ask how many vulnerable communities, besides military bases, suffer from the same forms of neglect and malfeasance as Flint, MI?
In fact, do you see how these two disparate categories of vulnerable communities, military bases, and their surrounding communities, as well as minority, and low-income, communities share a pattern of neglect covered up by state and federal government agencies?
This is unacceptable, but it is unlikely such a story would attract significant attention in the news cycle.
It is obvious to me, at least, EPA’s Superfund program for military base NPL sites has been so adversely affected by budget cuts it no longer has enough experienced, expert staff in the Regional offices properly to address all of the NPL cleanups in the queue. So the Agency is proceeding with what they can address at sites given higher priority than sites where progress may be alleged to have happened, but which really are not given the attention required to prove such progress as claimed is real.
The result is sites are placed at the head of the list if they would return significant local taxes on cleanup and redevelopment, or the sites present serious threats to the health of higher income communities which already contribute significantly to the local tax base.
It would be quite difficult, burdensome, and expensive for outside parties such as public interest groups to collect the evidence for these statements, despite the fact all the information could be found in the public administrative record for each site. Of course, this is why top career managers have not consolidated those site records, nor made them available online, claiming the records are too voluminous. That leaves the records for each site located in the vicinity of each site, usually at a public library.
Even if all the data was collected, analyzed and displayed, a public interest group likely would not be allowed by a federal court to intervene in a Superfund NPL cleanup. CERCLA § 310(d) excludes citizens from filing a civil action if the President has commenced and is diligently prosecuting an action under CERCLA or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to require compliance with a standard, regulation, condition, requirement, order, or IAG. In addition, CERCLA § 310(d) precludes citizens from filing a suit until notification is given to the President, the State in which the alleged violation occurred, and the facility alleged to be in violation of a standard, regulation, condition, requirement, order, or IAG. Additional conditions and requirements pertaining to citizen suits are set forth in CERCLA § 310(a) through (i).
The Agency is trying to protect its Superfund program from being entirely discontinued. Yet, that remains a real potential risk.
Note from the Editor: The author currently lives in Maryland. The views expressed here are solely those of its author. The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.