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EPA's Revised Cost-Benefit Policy: What Does It Really Mean at Sediment Sites?
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EPA Administrator Wheeler issued a May 2019 memorandum ordering that the Agency increase "consistency and transparency" in considering costs and benefits of environmental regulation.

Administrator Wheeler directed various Assistant Administrators for Air, Chemical Safety, the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), and Water to proceed with rulemaking as to specific media, presumably including air, water and Superfund programs. This presentation will explore the revised regulatory policy and then explore its potential impacts in a major sediment Superfund cleanup at Portland Harbor.

Background: Criticism of EPA"s analysis of costs and benefits is not new. In 2015, the Supreme Court held that EPA"s failure to consider the costs of its new rule regulating air emissions constituted an abuse of the agency"s authority. The Supreme Court majority found that the statutory command that an agency regulate hazardous air pollutants as "necessary and reasonable" must include a consideration of costs in the case Michigan v. EPA, 135 S. Ct. 2699 (2015). In 2018, then EPA Administrator Pruitt announced an initiative via a notice of proposed rulemaking to review EPA"s overall approach to cost-benefit analysis. The current Administrator, Wheeler, has now concluded in his May 2019 memorandum that EPA's cost-benefit analysis requires a "media-specific approach, taking into account the variety of statutory programs."

Case study: The failure of EPA to apply a rigorous cost-benefit analysis to major sediment sites in the Superfund context. Panel members will consider the application of this general EPA policy in the context of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The Portland Harbor site is a major sediments clean-up program whose remedial costs are estimated to be some $1 billion (that"s with a "B") per EPA"s Record of Decision. Some PRPs estimate the realistic costs to be in excess of $2 billion, and are pursuing alternative approaches that reduce cost and construction duration but still achieve EPA"s goals of protecting human health and the environment. Will EPA now revisit this and other "mega-sites" (over $50 million dollars in cleanup) under its new policy? What can scientists do to evaluate whether Agency cleanups truly balance realistic costs with actual benefits?

Publication Summary

  • Geosyntec Authors: Scott Rowlands
  • All Authors: Scott Rowlands
  • Title: The Association for Environmental Health and Sciences (AEHS) Foundations' 30th Annual International Conference on Soil, Water, Energy, and Air
  • Event or Publication: Event
  • Practice Areas: Environmental Planning and Management
  • Citation: Geosyntec practitioners will present at the Association for Environmental Health and Sciences (AEHS) Foundations' 30th Annual International Conference on Soil, Water, Energy, and Air on March 16-19, 2020. The conference will be held at the DoubleTree Mission Valley in San Diego, California.
  • Date: March 16-19, 2020
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Publication Type: Platform Presentation