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AP NEWS: GAO: 60% of Superfund sites at higher risk in climate change

WASHINGTON (AP) — The worsening wildfires, floods and hurricanes of climate change threaten at least 60% of U.S. Superfund sites, and efforts to strengthen the hazardous waste sites are stalling in some vulnerable regions as the Trump administration plays down the threat, a congressional watchdog agency says.

The Environmental Protection Agency responded to Monday’s report of the Government Accountability Office by rejecting many of its findings. That includes dismissing GAO investigators’ recommendation that the agency and Administrator Andrew Wheeler explicitly state that the EPA’s mission includes dealing with climate change and its increased risk of disasters breaching Superfund sites.

Assistant EPA administrator Peter Wright largely avoided the words “climate change” in his formal response to the GAO and in a statement Monday. “The EPA strongly believes the Superfund program’s existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events, that may increase in intensity, duration, or frequency, are woven into risk response decisions at nonfederal NPL sites,” Wright said.

The GAO report emphasizes the challenges for government agencies under President Donald Trump, who belittles the science of climate change.

Wheeler’s highest-profile public remarks on the matter came in a March CBS interview, when Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, called global heating “an important change” but not one of the agency’s most pressing problems.

“Most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out,” Wheeler said then, rejecting conclusions by scientists that damage to climate from fossil fuel emissions already is making natural disasters fiercer and more frequent.