November 19, 2019

Harris Introduces Legislation to Ensure Toxic Waste Sites Are Resilient to Climate Change

In December 2017, Harris requested GAO study on climate change readiness of Superfund sites, which was released publicly Monday 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday introduced the Preparing Superfund for Climate Change Act, legislation requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to incorporate climate change into their plans for overseeing Superfund sites, which contain toxic waste and other contaminants harmful to Americans’ health. While the Trump administration yesterday rejected a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to consider the impact of climate change on these toxic waste sites, Harris’ legislation would mandate this under the law.

On Monday, the GAO released a report concluding that Superfund sites across the country are underprepared for the impact of the climate crisis, which has the potential to disrupt toxic sites and release contaminants into the environment and surrounding communities. In December 2017, Harris led a letter to the GAO requesting such a report. 

“We can no longer ignore the fact that the climate crisis is here and it’s in our backyard. Hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters are growing in intensity and threatening to unleash some of our nation’s most toxic sites on surrounding areas, especially waste sites located in close proximity to low-income communities and communities of color,” said Senator Harris. “My legislation will ensure that the EPA and those responsible incorporate climate change into cleanup plans for current and future Superfund sites and that we are preserving our nation’s ability to clean up pollution and protect communities in the era of a changing climate."

In recent years, natural disasters have had a direct impact on Superfund sites and risked serious harm to communities already reeling from the devastation of natural disasters. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey led to floods at 13 Superfund sites and breaches at two. In 2018, the Carr Fire  in California burned through the Iron Mountain Mine site causing fires in pipes necessary to clean up the site and had the potential to result in an explosion that would have expelled dangerous chemicals throughout the surrounding area.

Specifically, the Preparing Superfund for Climate Change Act:

  • Requires the potential threat to human health and the environment associated with local natural disasters and hazards due to climate change to be incorporated into any plans to clean-up a superfund site; and
  • Requires that local natural disasters and extreme weather hazards, including any projected exacerbation or change in those disasters and hazards due to climate change be taken into account in the periodic review of whether a clean-up plan is adequately protective.

For full bill text, click here.

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