Backyard Talk Media Releases

Steven Cook Will Lead Superfund Task Force


It can be difficult at times to clearly identify the environmental goals and directives of Scott Pruitt’s EPA, but one clear directive of the administration is to advance the Superfund program. At the EPA, Superfund is administered by the Office of Land and Emergency Management. The office also oversees the regulation of hazardous waste, brownfields, and waste management. Clearly, the Office of Land and Emergency Management is of the utmost importance to CHEJ because it administers Superfund, the program which Lois Gibbs helped develop.
The Office of Land and Emergency Management has been led by Albert Kelly until his resignation earlier this month. Kelly resigned amid controversies over his banking past. Kelly was reportedly was banned from banking for life by the FDIC. Given his career history as a banker, many were skeptical of how Kelly would handle the administration of the Superfund program when he was nominated last year. Despite skepticism, Kelly proved to be a competent and considerate administrator.
Kelly worked closely with many within CHEJ’s network to clean up communities. When Kelly announced his resignation, Dawn Chapman, founder of Just Moms STL said, “I’m pretty heartbroken today, I only know what this guy was doing for our community. I saw a man that had real compassion.” Chapman had been working with Kelly to get federal funding to clean up and evacuate the West Lake Landfill. Kelly brought transparency, action, and openness to the Superfund program. During his tenure, Kelly sought to bring action and movement to sites that have been dormant for too long.
Yesterday, it was announced that Steven Cook will replace Kelly as chair of the Superfund task force. Cook like Kelly, lacks experience in the environmental field, but this wasn’t detrimental for Kelly as he quickly learned how to work with communities to enact real change. Before the EPA, Cook served as senior counsel for LyondellBasell, self-described as “one of the largest plastics, chemicals, and refining companies in the world.” Regardless of Cook’s previous work experience, he is now overseeing a program that requires polluters to pay for their damage to harmed communities.
What CHEJ will look for from Cook as he enters his new position as chair of the Superfund task force:

  • Action– We want to see real and meaningful action within the Superfund Program.
  • Openness– Follow in the footsteps of Kelly and gather input from all sides.
  • Listening– Hear from the communities that are being directly affected by the toxins in their backyard.
  • Put people over industry– Human lives are infinitely more valuable than any cooperate dollar. Put the people and their communities before polluting corporations.

CHEJ wishes Steven Cook the best of luck in administering the Superfund program, but we will be watching to see what type of administrator he will be.

Backyard Talk News Archive

What is the road ahead for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?

On Wednesday, September 20, Hurricane Maria made a direct hit to Puerto Rico– virtually destroying most of its infrastructure and plunging Puerto Ricans into a humanitarian crisis. About 97% of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million population is without power, and about half without running water. Let’s not forget that these are American citizens we are talking about.
The Trump Administration’s response has been significantly slower and less effective than the response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma. President Trump tweeted about the situation on Monday, stating that,“Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
His lack of empathy towards a U.S. territory struggling to survive following a disaster is alarming, even for him. Focusing on the massive debt held by Puerto Rico, whose economy is now even more ravaged than it was before, is just cruel but unacceptable.
Gov. Ricardo Rossell of Puerto Rico urged Congress to approve a commensurate aid package. A week after the hurricane, FEMA put out a statement that they have airplanes and ships loaded with meals, water and generators headed to the island.
In addition to the ongoing crisis, the Guajataca Dam in the island’s northwest corner has suffered a “critical infrastructure failure,” which poses immediate flooding threats to about 70,000 people. While the majority of residents in the potential flood zone have evacuated, efforts are being made to evacuate periphery areas.
The path for Puerto Rico ahead is uncertain. Its power grid is almost entirely wiped out, and has proven to lack resilience. Many experts on disaster response urge for the opportunity to be taken to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid from the ground up– a project that would require billions of dollars.
Not to mention, there are 23 Superfund sites on the island that likely have contaminated soil and groundwater. Unexploded bombs, bullets, and projectiles are among the toxic contents of these Superfund sites, specifically on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques which was used by the military as a bomb-test site.
In the southern coastal town of Guayama, a five-story pile of coal ash has been sitting next to a low-income, minority community of 45,000 people. This ash contains heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and chromium. The company responsible is Applied Energy Systems (AES), which was ordered to remove the pile prior to the hurricane but whether this was done is unclear. It is highly likely that this toxic ash has contaminated the surrounding land water sources.
At this point, we must continue to urge the U.S. government to provide ongoing aid to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. Be sure to check back with CHEJ on the front of environmental justice for Puerto Ricans following this humanitarian disaster.
Click on the below link to see how you can help the victims of Hurricane Maria: