The value of superfund cleanups : evidence from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decisions
Under the Superfund law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for inspecting hazardous waste sites and for putting those with the most serious contamination problems on a national priorities list. The EPA then oversees the cleanup of these sites, suing potentially responsible parties for the costs of cleanup when possible, and funding the cleanup of"orphaned"sites out of the Superfund, money raised taxing chemical and petroleum products. The Superfund program is controversial. Cleanups are costly and it is unclear whether the benefits of cleanup, especially the relative benefits of more permanent clenanup, are worth the costs. At many sites, imminent danger of exposure to contaminants can be removed at low cost. What raises the cost of cleanup is the decision to clean up the site for future generations - to incinerate contaminated soil, for example, or to pump and treat an aquifer for 30 years. To shed light on this debate, the authors infer the EPA's willingness to pay (or have others pay) for more permanent cleanups at Superfund sites. They do so by analyzing cleanup decisions for contaminated soils at 110 Superfund sites. They find that, other things being equal, the EPA was more likely to choose less expensive cleanup options. But, holding costs constant, the EPA was more likely to select more permanent options, such as incinerating the soil instead of capping it or putting it in a landfill. The EPA was willing to pay at least twice as much for onsite incineration of contaminated soil as it was for capping the soil. Has the EPA chosen more permanent Superfund cleanups in areas where residents are predominantly white and have high incomes? The authors find no evidence that the percentage of minority residents near a site influences the choice of cleanup selected. But offsite treatment was more likely at sites with higher incomes.
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