Superfund:

Further EPA Management Action Is Needed To Reduce Legal Expenses

RCED-94-90: Published: Jan 13, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) use of Superfund settlement tools, focusing on: (1) how often EPA uses these tools; (2) impediments to their use; and (3) recent EPA actions to increase the use of these tools.

GAO found that: (1) EPA has not fully utilized its settlement tools or encouraged the use of the settlement tools by its field offices; (2) EPA has completed de minimis settlements at 78 sites, prepared nonbinding allocations of responsibility (NBAR) at 5 sites, used mixed-funding arrangements at 16 sites, and used alternative dispute resolutions (ADR) at 35 sites; (3) EPA has focused on getting responsible-party-financed cleanups underway quickly and views the settlement tools as burdensome and difficult to implement because of restrictive administrative procedures; (4) EPA has improved its administrative procedures in response to widespread complaints about high transaction costs; and (5) EPA needs to ensure the long-term use of the settlement tools by assessing the total number of regional sites that are eligible to use the settlement tools, targeting resources to expand the tools' use, setting goals for the use of each tool, and actively promoting the use of each tool among potentially responsible parties (PRP).

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the agency's response, EPA has inventoried all non-federal sites to identify potential candidates for de minimis settlements, and has inventoried "many" sites for use of other settlement tools as part of its Superfund administrative efforts.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA provides incentives and accountability for the sustained use of the settlement tools, the Administrator, EPA, should inventory NPL sites to identify all candidates for the use of the tools.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA targets specific funding for use of only one of the tools (ADR), although EPA generally allocates resources to the regions consistent with their targets for the other tools. EPA stated it has not developed SWAT teams per se for all of the tools, but it has designated individuals at headquarters to monitor cases where these tools are being considered or used and provide expert advice to the regions on the process. In addition, EPA has established a team of headquarters personnel to work with the regions in the use of the new allocation process at certain sites.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA provides incentives and accountability for the sustained use of the settlement tools, the Administrator, EPA, should determine what resources are needed to use the tools and target resources to the regions for their use. EPA could develop headquarters- or region-based SWAT teams to implement the tools and make further use of PRP assistance in supporting the use of the tools.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA set regional goals for use of de minimis settlements in fiscal year 1994, and has set targets for regional participation in ADR and mixed funding pilots as part of its Superfund administrative improvement efforts.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA provides incentives and accountability for the sustained use of the settlement tools, the Administrator, EPA, should set goals for each region's use of each tool to ensure the accountability of the region for its use of the tool.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Superfund administrative improvements effort entails promotion of settlement tools among PRP.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA provides incentives and accountability for the sustained use of the settlement tools, the Administrator, EPA, should promote the use of the tools, including NBAR, among PRP.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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