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Land Use and Cleanups: Beyond the Rhetoric

July 1996

Citation: ELR 10358

Author: George Wyeth

There seems to be agreement across a wide spectrum of those involved in Superfund cleanups that such cleanups should take into consideration the kinds of activities that are expected to take place at the site after the remedial work is completed. While cleaning every site to levels suitable for all conceivable uses may be a laudable goal, doing so can impose costs that are out of proportion to the added amount of protection obtained. Not surprisingly, therefore, every significant proposal for reform of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)1 contains a provision tying the selection of remedies to expected land uses in some way.

The role of land use in remedy selection, however, is more complicated than many appreciate. Discussions of land-use based remedies frequently reflect oversimplified notions of how land-use considerations may bear on the remedy selection process and how land-use decisions are really made. This Dialogue seeks to provide a clearer understanding ofhow land use should be considered in remedy selection and addresses the long-term implications of tying remedies to anticipated land uses. In addition to highlighting the issues that are often overlooked in discussions of land use as a cleanup consideration, it argues that we should consider an entirely different kind of cleanup regime similar to permitting, under which regulatory oversight would be maintained on a continuing basis and cleanups phased in with an emphasis on addressing known short-term risks.

Mr. Wyeth is an attorney in the Office of General Counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The views expressed are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of EPA. Discussion of pending legislation is based on language in the bills as of May 24, 1996.