WASHINGTON - Nearly 60% of a group of contaminated sites in the United States earmarked for environmental clean-up are located in areas vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to a congressional watchdog report released on Monday.
The Government Accountability Office found that 945 of 1,571 sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) eligible for so-called “Superfund” financing are located in areas that are prone to flooding, storm surge, sea level rise, and wildfires, which could damage those sites and potentially release contaminants that imperil public health.
It called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees Superfund sites, to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into its risk assessments and response.
The EPA also needed to clarify how its actions to manage the sites aligned with "current agency goals and objectives, which could limit its senior officials' ability to manage these risks," the GAO report said.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said he believes climate change is happening but disagrees with the notion that it is an emergency that should be prioritized.
EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Wright dismissed the report in a statement on Monday.
"The EPA strongly believes the Superfund program's existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events, that may increase in intensity, duration, or frequency, are woven into risk response decisions at nonfederal NPL sites," he said.
The report came in response to a 2017 request by Congressional Democrats who asked the GAO to assess the risks posed by climate change on Superfund sites in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which damaged several Superfund sites containing hazardous substances in Texas.
More than a dozen of those lawmakers on Monday called on Wheeler to read the report and heed the recommendations of the GAO.
"The lack of resources for regional offices is a direct result of EPA headquarters' failure to embrace addressing climate change as a strategic objective," the members wrote.
The GAO report said that 551 of the NPL sites are located in flood hazard areas, 160 are located in coastal hazard areas and 117 are found in wildfire hazard areas. Forty-two sites are located in areas vulnerable to both coastal and wildfire hazards and 75 in areas vulnerable to flood and wildfires.