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Senate votes to move West Lake cleanup from EPA to Army Corps

The Army Corps of Engineers could take over cleanup of the radioactive West Lake Landfill under a bill passed by the U.S. Senate.

Residents and activists have long pushed for oversight of the Bridgeton landfill's cleanup to be moved from the Environmental Protection Agency's jurisdiction. The EPA has overseen the landfill since the early '90s, but cleanup still hasn't begun.

The St. Louis area's Congressional delegation introduced bills in the U.S. House and Senate last year to transfer oversight of the landfill, which was contaminated in the 1970s with uranium processing waste dating to the Manhattan Project. Pressure for action has grown since a smoldering fire began burning in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill five years ago. Should the fire reach West Lake, those who live and work nearby worry it could spread radioactive contamination offsite.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in news releases that their bill to put the West Lake Landfill into a special Army Corps cleanup program had passed that chamber. The bill now must pass the U.S. House, where Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, have proposed similar legislation.

"We look forward to engaging elected officials next week in the House of Representatives as we travel to Washington D.C. and try to get the bill across the finish line," Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said in a statement praising the move.

But landfill owner Republic Services warned a move to the Army Corps program now could further delay a cleanup that the EPA has promised it would propose by the end of the year. Similar moves to the corps program has resulted in unnecessary delays because the corps tends to rely on government funding rather than waiting for liable companies to finance cleanup, like the EPA does, Republic warns.

"The last time Congress tried this, remediation work took more than a decade," Republic spokesman Russ Knocke said in a statement. "Costs shifted from private parties to the taxpayer, and the government has recouped just pennies on the dollar."

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©2016 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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