Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is needlessly destroying irreplaceable artifacts at hundreds of toxic clean-up sites across the country, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the EPA Office of Inspector General. The complaint details how EPA and its contractors routinely shrug off required site surveys before they begin to blast or excavate, destroying significant historic and prehistoric cultural resources in the process.
The PEER complaint focuses on one recent Superfund clean-up of an old mine on the Elem Indian Colony reservation in northern California’s Lake County. In that 2006 operation, EPA –
- Began work without any site survey to determine whether it had historic or cultural significance;
- Ignored a complaint from tribal officials; and
- Destroyed more than $50 million in archaeological treasures
“These are not emergency operations that preclude consultation and study before opening up a trench,” stated PEER Counsel Adam Draper, who filed the complaint. “There is no reason why EPA, of all agencies, cannot obey basic resource protection laws.”
In addition to the Elem site, the PEER complaint points to similar violations ranging from Oklahoma to the island of Saipan. In some instances, EPA has disturbed human remains as well as historic and prehistoric resources.
“We believe that what EPA did in California is not an isolated incident but is part of a pattern that is taking place in hundreds of locations across the country,” Draper added. “EPA digs first and does not even bother to ask questions later.”
PEER is asking the Inspector General to –
- Review what happened on the Elem Indian Colony, identify the responsible agency officials and determine whether compensation should be paid;
- Survey other EPA Superfund operations to develop an authoritative estimate as to how widespread agency noncompliance is with historic preservation laws and its own Superfund regulations; and
- Recommend steps that would minimize EPA violations.
“We want the Inspector General to find out why the Environmental Protection Agency is not also protecting our cultural and historic heritage,” Draper concluded.