EPA Superfund Plan Pleases Business, Irks Enviros

The EPA’s “balanced” Portland Harbor cleanup plan, combining ideas from multiple sources, has to please business groups while irking environmental activists who pressed for a more aggressive cleanup before President Obama leaves office.

The EPA’s “balanced” Portland Harbor cleanup plan, combining ideas from multiple sources, has to please business groups while irking environmental activists who pressed for a more aggressive cleanup before President Obama leaves office.

The Environmental Protection Agency just issued a long awaited plan to clean up the Portland Harbor, which pleased business interests, but irked tribes and environmental activists.

Even so, the plan isn’t a walk-over, nor is it cheap, with a $746 million price tag that will be paid by more than 150 companies and public agencies and take at least seven years. However, it is much more modest than the $2 billion estimate the EPA floated a while back, which galvanized business interests to push for alternative approaches.

The alternative EPA promulgated would rely on "natural recovery” to cleanse 1,900 acres of the 2,200-acre Superfund site. The 291-acre balance of the site would be dredged, capped and seeded to remove, isolate or speed the dilution of pollutants trapped in riverbed soils. 

EPA officials called their alternative “balanced” and a hybrid of approaches recommended in substantial testimony. The federal agency expects a lot more advice in the 60-day comment period that extends into August.

Environmental activists view the EPA plan somewhere between disappointing and a disaster. They felt they had the regulatory momentum for a more aggressive plan, which would be put into effect while President Obama remains in office. Now they face a challenge to stiffen the plan in a shrinking political time frame. Some community groups say the 60-day comment period is too short for them to absorb what has been proposed and make meaningful suggestions.

The Lower Columbia Group, the coalition of potentially responsible parties that congealed when it appeared a more draconian and expensive plan would come from EPA, assumed a reserved posture in its reaction to the plan. Privately, they had to be smiling and popping corks on champagne.

The Portland Harbor Superfund issue has swum around for more than 16 years, and it probably isn’t over.