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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund settlement process, focusing on: (1) EPA success in obtaining cleanups of hazardous waste sites and recovering Superfund administration costs; (2) the adequacy of EPA controls over its settlement process; and (3) additional opportunities for EPA to improve its recovery of Superfund costs.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status
To link the EPA settlement accomplishments more effectively with its goals, Congress should require the Administrator, EPA, to use performance measures that show the extent to which individual and multiple settlements have, during past and previous years, implemented the EPA chosen remedy and reimbursed EPA for Superfund's costs and report those measures periodically to Congress and the public.
Closed - Not Implemented
To enable EPA to recover the government's costs more fully, Congress should amend CERCLA to allow EPA always to: (1) accrue interest on its costs from the date funds are expended; and (2) charge an interest rate commensurate with commercial lending rates.
Closed - Not Implemented

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency 1. To improve internal controls in the Superfund program, the Administrator, EPA, should implement explicit procedures for documenting the settlement process. At a minimum, those procedures should include requirements to document: (1) a realistic bottom-line position before beginning negotiations; and (2) key decisions and significant events occurring during negotiations, especially negotiating sessions with potentially responsible parties, changes in bottom-line positions and the reasons for them, and the results of internal meetings.
Closed - Not Implemented
EPA disagreed with the recommendation.
Environmental Protection Agency 2. To improve internal controls in the Superfund program, the Administrator, EPA, should implement explicit procedures for documenting the settlement process. At a minimum, those procedures should require the postsettlement analysis to include a comparison of the settlement outcome to bottom-line positions, including the EPA rationale for any deviations in those positions.
Closed - Not Implemented
EPA believed that its existing guidance on documentation as adequate.
Environmental Protection Agency 3. The Administrator, EPA, should require a written justification, or postsettlement analysis, for all proposed administrative settlements. Moreover, until corrective actions have been implemented, the Administrator, EPA, should include the lack of adequate documentation in the Superfund settlement process as a material weakness in its Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act report.
Closed - Not Implemented
EPA has listed cost recovery as a material weakness but not for the reasons GAO gave.
Environmental Protection Agency 4. To enable EPA to pursue all potentially recoverable costs from responsible parties, the Administrator, EPA, should issue guidance to the regions for calculating interest appropriate for inclusion in settlement negotiations under its existing authority.
Closed - Implemented
EPA issued guidance for recovering interest and has completed installation of the SCORE automated data systems in its regions to aid interest calculation in cost recovery actions.
Environmental Protection Agency 5. To enable EPA to pursue all potentially recoverable costs from responsible parties, the Administrator, EPA, should ensure that regions consistently request and include all other agency Superfund costs, including those of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Department of Justice, in the costs that EPA seeks to recover in settlements with PRP.
Closed - Implemented
EPA plans to continue working with its regions and other federal agencies to ensure that all costs are pursued in cost recovery actions. GAO will follow up in its current review.
Environmental Protection Agency 6. To enable EPA to pursue all potentially recoverable costs from responsible parties, the Administrator, EPA, should include administrative settlements with unrecovered costs and financially viable nonsettlers in the nonsettler tracking system.
Closed - Not Implemented
EPA has no firm plans to implement the recommendation.

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