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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Trump EPA promises fast action (but no more money) on toxic waste cleanups

The Lower Duwamish River Superfund site in South Seattle
KUOW Photo/John Ryan
The Lower Duwamish River Superfund site in South Seattle

Toxic waste cleanups in Renton and Portland are going to get renewed attention from the Environmental Protection Agency, according to an announcement from the EPA.

More quietly, the agency has abandoned dozens of other toxic sites in the Northwest, according to its inspector general.

Despite the promise to bring "immediate, intense action" to these toxic cleanups, the Trump administration is making no extra money available to accomplish that goal. 

On Friday, an EPA press release identified 21 toxic sites nationwide that it says can benefit from the "direct engagement" of Administrator Scott Pruitt. Two of those Superfund sites are in the Northwest: Portland Harbor and Quendall Terminal, an old creosote factory on the shores of Lake Washington in Renton.

"There is no commitment of additional funding associated with a site’s inclusion on the list," the press release states.

Pruitt has said he wants to accelerate the agency’s toxic-waste cleanups, even as he works to slash the agency’s funding and staff, as well as its work in other areas including climate change.

“We hear that cleanups are supposed to be going faster," said Renee Dagseth, who retired from the EPA’s Seattle office in August. "But how can they, with fewer people?”

Since 2011, the number of people working in the EPA's Region 10, its four-state Northwest region, has dropped by 20 percent, according to Dagseth.

"Now we're looking at another 15 percent reduction, so something’s going to give," Dagseth said. "Quality or quantity or both.”

In September, the agency’s inspector general said 34 toxic sites around the Northwest no longer had any EPA staff working on them as of last year. KUOW filed a Freedom of Information Act request to identify those sites. They include Commencement Bay in Tacoma and Harbor Island in Seattle.

Despite Superfund’s name, its funding hasn’t been so super in recent years. It’s fallen by nearly half since 1999. And Pruitt aims to cut another 30 percent of the Superfund budget.

Click on the map markers for more information about each site:

EPA's list of Northwest toxic waste sites with no EPA staff assigned to work on them in 2016:

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Year started with KUOW: 2009