Media manages to flub story on EPA supersites in Harvey flooding

If you’ve been following all of the Hurricane Harvey news, you may have seen the hot as a pistol headline from the Associated Press yesterday. ‘AP EXCLUSIVE: Toxic waste sites flooded; EPA not on scene” Wow. That sounds pretty bad. And reading through the article you would find that more than a dozen toxic EPA superfund sites in the area affected by the hurricane were flooded and the possibility of toxic leakage was very real. But the big takeaway was that the EPA hadn’t even bothered to inspect them.

This led to a flood of even hotter takes from liberal sites, eager to dump some accusations on the doorstep of the White House. The Washington Monthly blared out, “Trump’s Hamstrung EPA Is AWOL As Toxic Chemicals Flood Houston.” Raw Story went with, “REVEALED: Highly toxic Houston ‘Superfund’ sites hit by Harvey have not been checked since the storm.” I’m pretty sure Think Progress never even finished their article because they were fainting from pure joy.

It’s enough to give you the vapors and must spell real trouble for Scott Pruitt and the EPA. Except for one problem. The story was almost entirely vaporware. Yes, there was a hurricane and flooding. And yes, there are some superfund sites in the area that flooded. But aside from that… not so much. A reporter from The Hill actually took the time to contact the EPA and check things out and came away with a very different version of the tale.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Saturday that 13 Superfund sites have been flooded or could be facing damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

The agency said that two of the sites, which are areas that are polluted with hazardous material and require extensive cleanup, had been inspected and do not require immediate cleanup.

Eleven sites have proven to be inaccessible for response teams, however the agency said teams are in place to inspect the areas once flooding from the storm subsides.

In total, the EPA said that it had conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites in impacted areas using “aerial images” and contact with with those responsible for regular cleanup activities.

So in reality, the accessible sites had already been inspected. The others were checked out via aerial inspections because of access issues caused by all the flooding. The AP report is trying to make hay of the fact that they were able to take a boat and reach some of the sites, implying that the EPA was somehow negligent, but what they managed to see was… water. Yes, I suppose the EPA could have paddled over the same spots and said, “Yep. It’s flooded alright.” But unless you wanted to put inspectors in scuba gear down into those zero visibility, swirling, obstructed flood waters you weren’t going to see a lot more while the waters were still raging.

The EPA also already had people on the ground, standing by with local officials and ready to go in and inspect as soon as the conditions permit. They clearly weren’t overly fond of the Associated Press’ handling of the story and released the following statement:

“Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey. Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”

– EPA Associate Administrator, Liz Bowman

Ouch. If this were soccer there would be a joke about handing out the yellow journalism card here, but it’s hardly a laughing matter. In any event, the toxic sites are a valid concern and the EPA will need to be in there quickly to check them out as soon as the flooding calms down sufficiently. And it sounds like they’re in place and ready to do just that.