Hazardous Waste Cleanup: Numbers of Contaminated Federal Sites, Estimated Costs, and EPA’s Oversight Role

US Government Accountability Office

The Departments of Agriculture (USDA), the Interior, Defense (DOD), and Energy (DOE) have identified thousands of contaminated and potentially contaminated sites on land they manage but do not have a complete inventory of sites, in particular, for abandoned mines. GAO reported in January 2015 that USDA had identified 1,491 contaminated sites and many potentially contaminated sites. However, USDA did not have a reliable, centralized site inventory or plans and procedures for completing one, in particular, for abandoned mines…

These four departments reported allocating and spending millions of dollars annually on environmental cleanup and estimated future costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars or more in environmental liabilities. Specifically:

  • GAO reported in January 2015 that, in fiscal year 2013, USDA allocated over $22 million to environmental cleanup efforts and reported in its financial statements $176 million in environmental liabilities to address 100 sites.
  • GAO reported in January 2015 that Interior in fiscal year 2013 allocated about $13 million for environmental cleanup efforts and reported $192 million in environmental liabilities in its financial statements to address 434 sites.
  • In July 2010, GAO reported that DOD spent almost $30 billion from 1986 to 2008 across all environmental cleanup and restoration activities at its installations. In its fiscal year 2014 Agency Financial Report , DOD reported $58.6 billion in total environmental liabilities.
  • DOE reported receiving an annual appropriation of almost $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2015 to support cleanup activities. In 2014, DOE estimated its total liability for environmental cleanup at almost $300 billion.

As part of maintaining the list of contaminated and potentially contaminated federal sites, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compiled 2,323 federal sites that may pose a risk to human health and the environment, as of August 2015, according to EPA officials. EPA is responsible for ensuring that federal agencies assess these sites for contamination and has established 18 months as a reasonable time frame for agencies to complete a preliminary assessment…


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