Contamination, Collaboration, Remediation and Restoration: Lessons on First and Next-Generation Environmental Policy Approaches from the St. Paul Waterway Superfund Site in Tacoma, Washington

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Society and Natural Resources


Environmental Policy and Decision Making


The 1980 U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensations, and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, is an archetypal “first-generation” environmental policy characterized by a “command-and-control” regulatory framework, isolating and addressing one aspect of environmental harm, with an inflexible and adversarial bureaucratic process. In 1990 the St. Paul Waterway in Tacoma, Washington became the first marine Superfund site to achieve completed remediation, the first to combine hazardous waste remediation with habitat restoration, and to adopt an adaptive management approach. Long term monitoring has proven the remediation/restoration project successful. Remarkably, the remediation/restoration was achieved without litigation, by an innovative collaboration between industry, state and federal regulatory agencies, native tribes, community leaders and environmental groups. This unique process and successful outcome under Superfund provides lessons on aspects of “first-generation” policy approaches to maintain, while also pointing to reforms from “next-generation” or “environmental governance” policy approaches that could help generalize the success of this case.