Is the EPA doing enough to protect local communities?

When living in a community close to a landfill, most people would not be happy to find out that there has been waste from processing uranium dumped illegally in that landfill. Another blow would come from the fact that it was dumped in the ‘70s, and you are only now finding out about the waste because the EPA in 2018 just decided to address this issue. For the people of Bridgeton, MS, the waste in the West Lake Landfill has been a topic of debate for years. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times recently published articles that discuss this issue that has been neglected for years. The EPA, under Scott Pruitt from the Trump Administration, has recently started initiatives to clean up waste sites like this landfill, which is considered a Superfund site. These programs have come from a criticized administration after several stances have been taken against Obama-era climate change initiatives. However, Pruitt is determined to clean up sites like this one and strives to fulfill promises to locals who could potentially face health risks from these contaminates. The process of cleaning up this landfill has been long and challenging, but by using a stakeholder analysis, I hope to further examine the roles of each actor in this problem and how the current administration is attempting to fix public health issues such as this one

Using stakeholder analysis, we can analyze who is involved and what roles they play in the decision to act now for the West Lake Landfill. One of the main stakeholders in this issue has been the citizens of this town who live near the landfill. They face the highest risks of radiation contamination should the landfill leak. As a temporary fix to the problem, a protection cap was placed over the landfill, but recently the Missouri Department of National Resources discovered radioactive contaminates in storm water outside of the landfill (Press 2018). The residents of this area, being the closest to the problem, face the most health risks should contaminates continue to leak from the landfill. However, it does not seem that the citizens contain much power in the argument. Karen Nickel of the Just Moms STL initiative from Bridgeton has said that the plan was a long time coming and that community members have been calling for help for years (Press 2018). The majority of the power seems to come from stakeholders such as the EPA itself. Being a Superfund site, it is the responsibility of this department to clean up and prevent health concerns from leakage. Despite past attempts to clean up the waste, plans were pushed back and disputed. Scott Pruitt contains power and the drive to help clean up these sites and is taking the proper steps to facilitate change in the area. It would also be in the interest of the EPA to help citizens in these Superfund sites as they continue to face scrutiny for rolling back Obama-era regulations for climate change (Press 2018). By reaching out and cleaning these sites that the Obama administration faced difficulty doing, support can be gained in order to help build a better reputation for the EPA and therefore continue to grow support for future initiatives.

However, the stakeholder with the most power may be the companies behind the landfills that also face responsibility to clean and pay for damages. Republic Services, Inc. own the landfill and must work with Exelon Corp and the Energy Department to pay to clean it up. They must work together with EPA, but since most of the funding is coming from the company, they contain the most power. They can decide which plans will be used and how long the process will take. Right now the current plan is to remove 70% of the waste and then put a safety cap over the remaining waste (Press 2018). This plan, although not perfect, may take up to 5 years to complete and can still pose a threat to the community members. Audience players in this situation believe that more should be ton to clean up the landfill. Ed Smith, the policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, has commented that this plan is better than previous ones, but still is not great (Puko 2018). Senators on both sides of the political spectrum also believe that this cleanup is a long time coming, but more should be done and should have been done sooner (Puko 2018). However, since these actors do not have a direct effect on the outcome of the cleanup, their influence may not contain as much power or strength as they would like. Nevertheless, these voices are still critical to community members and passing agendas for future cleanups in these areas.

All of these actors contribute to the policy action that is occurring in Bridgeton, MS. This site has been on the EPA’s radar for years, and decisions on how to handle the situation have not been taken seriously until now. Scott Pruitt seems determined to work with other stakeholders in fixing the problem and making the community safe for its members. When the plan will go into effect is still up for debate, but the concern and desire to make this area safe and healthy again is the most important factor in this coming policy change. This case, however, can be seen as an important first step in looking at how this administration will continue to tackle issues similar to this one. Looking closely at this scenario could bring emphasize to the role Scott Pruitt and the EPA will bring to the table in handling environmental problems and addressing public safety.

 

References:

Press, The Associated. 2018. “EPA Announces Plan for Suburban St. Louis Landfill Cleanup.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2018/02/01/us/ap-us-underground-fire-landfill.html (February 2, 2018).

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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