Vapor Intrusion and the National Priorities List: Why Should the Biggest Superfund Problem Not Be Regulated Under Superfund?

As I have previously mentioned, EPA is considering including criteria related to vapor intrusion (VI) in the hazard ranking system scoring used to determine which sites should be added to the National Priorities List. As I noted when this first became news, it’s pretty much an obvious step for EPA to take. These are precisely the types of sites on which EPA should be focusing. At a certain level, I’d be happy – relatively – if EPA limited CERCLA to sites imposing threats to public water supplies and sites posing VI problems, and jettisoned everything else. 

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Aerospace Industries Association have now sent EPA a letter opposing inclusion of VI as a criterion for HRS scoring. The basis for their opposition is curious. It’s not that VI sites aren’t a problem. It’s that VI sites are a problem – but that CERCLA is not the right vehicle to address VI, because CERCLA cleanups take too long. 

NAM and AIA are right, of course. CERCLA decisions take forever. While NAM and AIA don’t point out the irony, it’s got to be uncomfortable for EPA that the principal federal program to clean up contaminated properties is not well-suited to address what is arguably the most significant health risk from the existence of contaminated properties.

Why should this be so? Could it be because CERCLA is the last bastion of almost totally pure command and control regulation? Might CERCLA remedy decisions take less time if EPA did not have to select remedies, but instead only identified appropriate cleanup standards and let PRPs select the remedy? Might cleanups get implemented faster if the PRPs’ obligation was simply to meet cleanup standards and provide sufficient information to EPA or 3rd party auditors to demonstrate that the cleanup standards have in fact been met? 

Oh, and, by the way, in these troubled budget times, might EPA be able to oversee the CERCLA program with about ¼ of its current staff if it set cleanup standards and got out of the way, rather than micromanaging every element of every cleanup?

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