EPA’s Battle on Toxic Waste: A Rising Concern

Despite the growing controversies with the current administration over environmental politics, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently announced new commitments to the Superfund program to address toxic waste sites across the nation. Included in the list of sites is the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, a location that’s been in the program since 1990. The Landfill contains toxic waste that has the potential to “cause cancer, birth defects and other [unknown] health and environmental harms” (Puko 2018).

As mentioned, the West Lake Landfill was placed on the Superfund list in 1990 but has received little attention since. In 2008 the EPA conducted research on the area and concluded that the waste would remain in the landfill and be covered with a “protective cap” (Puko 2018). Despite protests and formal complaints from the local community, the cap remains today (Puko 2018). However, EPA administer Scott Pruitt has initiated a five-year $236 million project to clean the Missouri landfill to make a statement about “a widespread effort to speed up how the government deals with the country’s most toxic sites” (Puko 2018). While Pruitt’s plan to tackle toxic waste is good intentioned, there is a significant financial burden with over 1,300 superfund locations. Along with this financial controversy comes engagement and resolving prior conflict with the community.

The local community is just one of several contributing stakeholders to the issue of the West Lake Landfill. Using the stakeholder framework, one can understand the roles these different stakeholders take in the political climate, and also compare different features of their arguments. The nearest town of Bridgeton, Missouri is most proximate in terms of health and political activism. In 2008, the community was extremely disheartened by the decision to cap the landfill because health concerns for young children (Puko 2018). More recently, individuals have expressed growing concerns about the health risks that come with living in proximity to toxic waste, along with the danger of living in an area of reasonable possibility of earthquakes. With the growing outcry, it is evident that the local community is very interested in how the issue is handled. It is also clear from this the attitude that the community does not support temporary solutions of toxic waste and supports Pruitt’s new plan to remove it from the area.

Less affected by the impacts of the landfill, but directly responsible for its regulation, is the EPA. The EPA has the most power and influence for making change, due to the high risks and costs of management. However, its proximity is much less than that of the local community. The attitude and interest level warrant interesting discussion, because of varying opinions of the EPA as an organization. Pruitt would argue that the organization is very interested and supportive of addressing the needs of toxic waste management, but others might criticize the EPA for its lack of direct action (Puko 2018). A final stakeholder to consider are the shareholders of the costs of the damage from toxic waste. The landfill is owned by Republic Services Inc, and shares costs with Exelon Corp and the Energy Department (Puko 2018). The companies are close in proximity in regard to ownership, but don’t necessarily witness the physical impact to human health and the surrounding environment. Though they must follow the standards set by the EPA, these organizations hold significant power over the local community. It is difficult to evaluate the position of these companies, because they may not approve of toxic waste nor agree with its degradation of human health and the environment. These companies hold significant financial responsibilities and may not support orders that prompt the cleaning of toxic waste from the landfill. However, from Pruitt’s latest statement, it seems as though the EPA is going through the process of accelerating the resolution of the issue through the Superfund program.

The policy process model plays a significant role in the execution of toxic waste management. As the first step of the policy process model, the program must set an agenda in terms of defining the problem of toxic waste sites and what the goal of the projects should be. Since the program existed prior to this administration, the general agenda has been set, but Pruitt is trying to redefine its urgency (Puko 2018). In comparison to formulating a policy, the program rather focuses on the actions it will take in terms of which sites to address and the logistics of clean up. Implementation can be extremely difficult when considering the limits of cost, technology, and unknown confounding variables. Pruitt has received criticism on this front, particularly from Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University (Puko 2018). She argues that while it’s nice to see Pruitt’s initiative, he has yet to present concrete plans for action. She also presents the concern for funding such a significant number of sites.

When considering the EPA’s newest push for toxic waste action, it is important to analyze the situation critically. Different perspectives have bias in terms of best practices for management and how effective the outcomes, or lack thereof, are. Considering the high volume of hazardous waste sites, it is crucial that the EPA addresses them ethically. Often environmental racism can influence the protection of higher income locations and disregard those of lower income or ethical minority. It is crucial that Pruitt takes care with site recognition, management, and funding.


Works Cited

Puko, Timothy. 2018. “EPA Sets Plan to Remove Radioactive Waste from Missouri Dump.” Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/epa-sets-plan-to-remove-radioactive-waste-from-missouri-dump-1517508064(February 2, 2018).

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