By Andrew H. Perellis and William R. Schubert

A recent Government Accountability Office report (GAO-13-252) called on EPA to improve its management of alternatives to National Priorities List placement.

The report found that at most sites that EPA deems eligible for NPL placement, EPA uses an alternative approach so that the site can be remediated without being placed on the National Priorities List.

The “Other Cleanup Activity” (OCA) deferral, under which EPA defers cleanup oversight to a separate entity outside the Superfund program, is an alternative approach that EPA frequently employs at NPL-eligible sites, the report stated.  Most OCA deferrals involve state agency oversight (although OCA deferrals may also defer cleanup oversight to federal agencies, Indian tribes, and private parties).

According to the report, EPA’s lack of a coherent playbook for executing and tracking OCA deferrals creates the risk of inconsistency.  The report included examples of apparent inconsistencies in EPA’s policies and practices.  For example, EPA’s regional offices appeared to hold different views on how to define the different types of OCA deferrals and the circumstances warranting each type.  (Notably, differences in the States’ environmental policies can also bear on these variations.  The report made some note of this factor.)