EPA official says agency is committed to cleaning up contaminated land from indigenous companies

Carlton Waterhouse, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management, at the BP Energy Center in Anchorage on June 7, 2022. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

President Biden’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s office responsible for Superfund sites said he’s committed to making progress in cleaning up contaminated land passed to Indigenous corporations in the Alaska.

The problem is huge but solvable, said Carlton Waterhouse.

“Obviously there are agencies and departments that have been doing cleanups for 50 years, but we haven’t done enough for too long,” he said. “And now we need to strategize on how we can really significantly accelerate what we are able to achieve. And we think the key to that is working together.

Some 44 million acres were ceded to Native corporations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. This includes more than 900 sites contaminated with military and civilian landfills, heavy metals, PCBs and buildings containing asbestos. Several hundred sites have been cleaned up, but there is still a lot to do.

Waterhouse said the Biden administration will take a “whole of government” approach. Coordination is particularly important in Alaska, he said, because the cost of mobilizing to a remote contaminated site is very high.

“If you think about the federal government, each sending different people to different sites at different times to deal with the same issues, rather than sort of collaborating on how we pull our resources and our assets together to be able to fix the problem, that’s is really adds to the expense, he said. “It really adds to the amount of time. ”

Waterhouse is still awaiting a U.S. Senate vote on his confirmation. Casey Sixkiller joined him for meetings with leaders of Native organizations in Anchorage. Sixkiller is the new chief for EPA Region 10, which includes Alaska.

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