EPA Sets Upper Basin Cleanup Plan
On Tuesday, the EPA announced the long-awaited but entirely anti-climactic release of their decision document governing the massive cleanup of the Upper Coeur d’ Alene basin. (News coverage here and here.) As had been foreshadowed for months, the EPA’s decision significantly reduced the scope, timeframe and cost of the cleanup plan from what had been originally proposed some two years ago.
At this point it’s hard to be enthusiastic about this so-called Record of Decision (ROD). All along, KEA and our conservation organization partners advocated that the cleanup be (1) completed, (2) as soon as possible, and (3) to cleanup standards that protect the public’s health and the environment. The original proposal had a $1.3 billion price tag, with a 50-90 year timeframe for completion. The current ROD is only $635 million with an estimated 30 year timeframe.
However, because EPA backed off from their original proposals, the plan that they released is only an “interim” ROD. In the EPA fact sheet (pdf) released to accompany the ROD amendment the EPA notes very explicitly:
The scaled-back cleanup focuses on the biggest sources of contamination. It will not address as much contamination in the Upper Basin as proposed in the 2010 cleanup plan. With its scope reduced, the cleanup is considered an “interim remedy.”
The interim remedy may not meet all of the cleanup standards. In that case, EPA would be required to revise the plan again later to add more cleanup work or waive the standards, and take public comment.
In other words, when this doesn’t work, they’ll need to go back to the drawing board.
Nevertheless, implementing even this the interim ROD will still take a very long time, and they’ll have plenty of time to reconsider, adapt, and apply new technologies in the decades that it’ll take to finally clean up the mess. So, on the one hand we’re mildly disappointed that the ROD isn’t final and isn’t better, on the other hand, we’re glad they’ll finally have a plan and will be getting on with it.