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US chemical makers don’t need bonds to cover pollution cleanup risks

EPA says existing rules and modern practices are adequate

by Cheryl Hogue
December 3, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 47


Photo shows two men wearing protective suits, hard hats, and respirators using a hose to wet down soil that large equipment is excavating from a contaminated site.
Credit: US Environmental Protection Agency
Soil excavation is a costly method used to clean up contaminated sites.

The US chemical industry doesn’t need to provide extra financial assurance, such as through bonds guaranteeing payment, to show that it can cover potential pollution cleanup, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

“EPA has found that existing environmental regulations and modern industry practices are sufficient to mitigate any risks,” agency administrator Andrew Wheeler says in a statement.

A rule the EPA unveiled Nov. 25 requires no additional financial assurances from the chemical manufacturing, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and electric power generation sectors. The agency issued the rule under the federal Superfund law, which addresses liability and cleanup of land contaminated with hazardous waste and is officially called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

In 2017, the agency finalized a similar rule for hard-rock mining, an activity that the environmental group Earthworks says is the nation’s largest source of hazardous pollutants. A federal appeals court upheld that rule in 2019, putting the Trump EPA on firm legal ground to expand this finding to other industries.

The American Chemistry Council, the main lobbying arm of the US chemical sector, backed the rule. Environmental groups opposed it, arguing that it creates a path for polluting industries to abandon contaminated sites and leave taxpayers with the cleanup bill.


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