EPA Issues Final National Contingency Plan for Superfund

[EPA press release - July 12, 1982]

Anne M Gorsuch, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, today announced final national guidelines for cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste sites across the country under the Administration's Superfund program.

"This plan reflects this Administration's commitment to guard the public health by cleaning up the nation's unsafe hazardous waste sites," said Mrs. Gorsuch.

The guidelines are in the Superfund National Contingency Plan (NCP), used for coordinating federal and state responses to hazardous substance spills and for cleaning up hazardous waste sites. The agency first published a draft plan last March. The new plan reflects changes in the draft made after interagency review of more than 100 public comments.

"The Reagan Administration believes that a policy of straightforward regulation and careful resource management, combined with an unshakable environmental commitment, is our mandate from the American people," Mrs. Gorsuch said. "And I believe that this policy will result in a swift cleanup of existing environmental hazards. Waste site cleanup will be our environmental legacy to future generations."

The NCP determines when the federal government may use the Superfund trust money to respond to a hazardous substances spill, or to clean up a hazardous waste site. The NCP also contains guidelines for determining the extent of response or cleanup, as well as criteria for determining the cleanup priority of spills or waste sites.

The Superfund law gives the Federal government authority to respond to abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, and hazardous substances spills on air, land, or water. The law provides for a $1.6 billion fund to cover cleanup costs. Most of this--86 percent--comes from taxes on the manufacture or import of certain chemicals and petroleum. The rest comes from general revenues.

Superfund was passed in December 1980, and in August 1981 President Reagan delegated to EPA the lead role in implementing the law and in revising the NCP.

The National Contingency Plan sets up the process for determining the extent of remedial cleanup at hazardous waste sites. Sites are evaluated or "scoped" to see what remedial action is needed. Then cleanup alternatives based on environmental, economic, and engineering criteria are developed. The final NCP states that selection of a remedy will be achieved by balancing environmental factors with costs. The chosen remedy will fully protect public health and the environment.

Recognizing that cleanup needs can vary greatly from site to site, the plan provides for a case-by-case determination of the appropriate extent of site cleanup. "This flexibility exemplifies the regulatory reform in the Reagan Administration," said Mrs. Gorsuch. "We have learned from experience that every feasible alternative must be looked at to see if it suits the unique problems of a particular site. The remedy will depend on many variables such as the substances present, hydrogeology, soil conditions, climate, size and proximity of population. A standard based on dense population would probably be inappropriate for an unpopulated area. The scheme proposed in the National Contingency Plan provides this important flexibility."

In conjunction with the plan, EPA is compiling a national ranking of state-nominated hazardous waste sites. Last fall, the agency selected 115 sites to be the first to receive attention under Superfund. EPA has already begun appropriate action at 99 of these sites, and has asked for nominations of additional sites for action between now and this fall. At that time the agency will name the nation's 400 priority sites.

The National Contingency Plan allows for extensive state and local participation in its activities. While EPA is responsible for implementing Superfund and the National Contingency Plan, Mrs. Gorsuch said that "We want to take advantage of the expertise available at the state level. We are planning to use both cooperative agreements and contracts to allow the states to assume as much responsibility for field response as they are capable of undertaking and are willing to accept. In 1982, EPA has so far transferred $30 million to states through cooperative agreements and contracts for remedial work at Superfund sites. We expect to at least double that amount in 1983."

It is expected that the final National Contingency Plan will be published in the Federal Register during the week of July 12.