Despite some of the rhetoric coming from opponents of the proposed Superfund cleanup of the upper Coeur d’Alene basin, “EPA go home” isn’t an option. In fact, the law is fairly clear why EPA is in the basin and what needs to be done. A quick review of the relevant federal regulations might be helpful.
According to the governing federal regulations, the EPA’s primary purpose in the cleanup process is to select remedies “that eliminate, reduce, or control risks to human health and the environment,” and remedies that “maintain protection over time and minimize untreated waste.”
In selecting a remedy, the EPA is required to meet basic “threshold criteria” that human health and the environment are protected and relevant standards are complied with. Only after the threshold criteria are met, the EPA can apply the “balancing criteria” of “long term effectiveness and permanence; reduction of toxicity, mobility or volume through treatment; short term effectiveness; implementability; and cost.” State and community acceptance are “modifying criteria” which can help EPA adjust the balance according to comments received.
We are currently drafting our detailed comments, but we are sensitive to the legal obligations of EPA under the law, particularly the threshold criteria. Overall, we are generally supportive the EPA’s attempts to address these fundamental legal obligations with this particular plan. In sum, we believe the EPA plan has met the minimum threshold. (A counterproposal from Helca Mining, on the other hand, does not.) Nevertheless, we will suggest some improvements that would make the remedy more protective of human health and the environment, more protective of remedies already in place, and that would provide better community acceptance. We also would accelerate the timeframes so that the upper basin cleanup might be accomplished more quickly and that a more comprehensive cleanup in the lower basin might proceed earlier.
In our view, the threshold criteria — that human health and the environment are protected, and that relevant cleanup standards are met — are the no-brainer reasons why the EPA plan is necessary. Nevertheless, given the ferocity of opposition to the proposed EPA cleanup, we think it is worth your time too, to remind EPA that you’re supportive of a cleanup meeting the letter and spirit of the law. Our friends at Idaho Conservation League has made it extremely easy to do so electronically — click here to send EPA an email. Comments are due by November 23rd.