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Trump environmental chief to prioritize toxic sites’ cleanup

FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2017, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees of the EPA in Washington. As Pruitt rolls back regulations aimed at preventing future pollution, he also is pledging to focus on cleaning up decades-old contamination. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the head of the Environmental Protection Agency rolls back regulations aimed at preventing future pollution, he also is pledging to focus on cleaning up decades-old contamination.

Scott Pruitt has directed his regional chiefs to elevate Superfund cleanup efforts to what he describes as their rightful place as the agency’s core mission.

“I am making it a priority to ensure contaminated sites get cleaned up. We will be more hands-on to ensure proper oversight and attention to the Superfund program at the highest levels of the agency, and to create consistency across states,” Pruitt said, according to an agency release.

Pruitt’s directive appears to contradict the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget, which would cut Superfund’s $1.1 billion annual allocation by 30 percent.

Money for Superfund is already about half what it was in the 1990s. The majority of cleanup money has been spent in just seven highly industrialized states, topped by New Jersey.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said that under Pruitt the agency expects to accomplish more while spending less.

“We are looking at ways to be more efficient with taxpayer resources, and are thinking through creative and efficient ways to get these sites cleaned up,” Bowman said.

The Superfund program cleans sites highly contaminated with such hazardous waste as lead, asbestos, dioxin and radioactive materials. There are now more than 1,300 sites prioritized nationally for cleanup.

The EPA routinely tries to compel polluters to pay for cleanups, but taxpayers often end up paying due to corporate spinoffs and bankruptcies. The work is typically carried out by private contractors.

Since his appointment, Pruitt has moved to block or delay Obama-era rules aimed at curbing toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants and fossil-fuel production. Like President Donald Trump, Pruitt has questioned the consensus of climate scientists that man-made carbon emissions are the primary driver of global warming.

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Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

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