EPA Could Do More to Minimize Cleanup Delays at the Clark Fork Sites

RCED-92-20: Published: Nov 21, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 7, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the progress and problems of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) cleanup of the Clark Fork Superfund sites in Montana, focusing on the: (1) extent and cost of cleanup work; (2) adequacy of cleanup plans; and (3) effectiveness of EPA efforts to recover cleanup costs.

GAO found that: (1) only 2 of the 4 sites' 23 operable units have been cleaned up completely, and studies at 3 sites did not result in appropriate cleanup remedies; (2) EPA and a private firm spent $54 million on cleanup activities, but they only spent $24 million on cleanup studies; (3) the 1988 Clark Fork master plan to coordinate cleanup work did not provide workable sequencing of cleanup activities, but the 1990 plan addressed those limitations; (4) further cleanup delays are likely because of disagreements over soil cleanup levels, EPA model provisions for cleanup agreements, and public concerns over cleanups for selected units; and (5) staffing shortages, poor cost documentation, and an inefficient accounting system have hampered EPA cost identification activities and prevented it from taking timely cost recovery action on the $33 million it spent at the sites.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Planned corrective actions for improving the speed and effectiveness of cost recovery are being considered by the Superfund Revitalization Team. Region VIII received additional resources for the timely issuance of demand letters. Until program improvements are implemented and evaluated, EPA believes a cost-benefit analysis is premature. EPA developed a multi-user cost recovery system, SCORE$.

    Recommendation: To improve cost-recovery activities, the Administrator, EPA, should provide additional resources, as needed, to allow for the timely issuance of demand letters for the Clark Fork sites. In addition, the Administrator should conduct a cost-benefit analysis, as previously recommended, to determine whether additional resources should be requested for cost recovery to allow EPA to take advantage of the interest income to be realized from the timely issuance of demand letters for other Superfund sites and in other EPA regions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 6, 1992, OSWER established a committee to review key planning documents for the Clark Forks site. OSWER now reviews clean-up progress and provides suggestions to keep the cleanup on schedule.

    Recommendation: To help minimize further delays in cleaning up the Clark Fork sites, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) to conduct periodic reviews of Region VIII's overall progress in cleaning up the Clark Fork sites, with a view toward identifying potential problems that could further delay cleanups and needed solutions to avoid and minimize such delays. OSWER could accomplish this by participating in the quarterly meetings that Region VIII's Montana Office plans to have with its work group to review the implementation of the Clark Fork master plan. Additionally, Region VIII and its Clark Fork sites could be included in the field studies that OSWER plans for reviewing the actions that EPA has taken in response to its June 1989 management review of the Superfund program.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is still considering the need for this action and has yet to determine what, if any, action will be taken. The EPA Montana office has established procedures to periodically notify the public of its progress in meeting milestones. EPA officials are meeting with the main citizens groups every 3 months. In addition, the agency publishes notices of cleanup status and invitations for comments and meeting dates in the local newspapers.

    Recommendation: To improve its strategy for monitoring implementation of the Clark Fork master plan, the Administrator, EPA, should require Region 8 and its Montana office to include provisions in its strategy for: (1) assessing viable alternatives for avoiding or minimizing slippages in milestones; and (2) periodically notifying the public of its progress in meeting milestones, including slippages and the steps EPA is taking to deal with them.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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