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Round 3-19: Establish Superfund Ombudsman in Every Region

Reform Description
This initiative established a Superfund Ombudsman in each EPA Region. The Ombudsman is a high-level employee who serves as a point of contact for members of the public who have concerns about Superfund activities. The Ombudsman has the ability to look independently into problems and facilitate the communication that can lead to a solution. The Ombudsman does not have the authority to change Agency decisions, but does have direct access to top management and can recommend actions to resolve legitimate complaints.

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Reform Status
check mark Implementation of this reform is complete.

The Regional Superfund Ombudsmen will continue to conduct investigations and mediations on a variety of cases to serve the public.

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July 2003 Update
In July 2003, the title Superfund Regional Ombudsman was changed to Regional Public Liaison. This was done to implement an Inspector General recommendation to clarify the role of the position. The Regional Public Liaison retains all the same authorities and responsibilities that were originally given to each Ombudsman.

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As a result of this reform, EPA:
  • Appointed an Ombudsman in each Region;
  • Convened annual meetings of the Regional Ombudsmen;
  • Conducted ongoing public outreach and mediation training;
  • Conducted investigations and mediations on a variety of cases; and
  • Developed new outreach tools, toll-free numbers for stakeholders to call, and new processes to resolve issues.
Each year, the Ombudsmen receive and respond to hundreds of inquiries. Most of these are routine and the Ombudsman provides information or connects the requestors to the person who can help them with their issue. In a few cases, the Ombudsman has undertaken fact-finding assessments or engaged in facilitation between the person with the concern and Agency officials. Examples of some of the work the Ombudsmen have done are provided in the Success Stories section.

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Success Stories
Puerto Rico

The Region 2 Superfund Ombudsman (RSO) received a call from a community activist in the San Juan area who claimed a company dumped oil contaminated with PCBs in a wetland area. In order to initiate a cleanup, the caller asked the RSO to address this site under the Superfund program. The caller asserted that her allegations had previously been discussed with a number of EPA employees, but was never informed of the outcome of her complaint. The Ombudsman made numerous phone calls to clarify what steps had been taken to address the matter. It was determined that there had been an investigation of the allegations, but they could not be sufficiently substantiated to initiate any enforcement action. EPA reviewed the site after the caller's initial allegations and a Superfund Preliminary Assessment (PA) and Site Inspection (SI) were conducted. The PA/SI Report noted a history of past spills but concluded that the site did not qualify for further action under Superfund. The Ombudsman reviewed his findings with the caller. He then provided her information/instructions for filing a petition to request an additional PA, if she could provide any new information about the site. The caller thanked the Ombudsman for taking her concerns seriously, explaining the actions taken to respond to her initial allegations, and for clarifying what she would need to do in order to pursue the issue further.

Palmerton, Pennsylvania

A local environmental group expressed dissatisfaction with EPA's communication and coordination related to a Superfund cleanup. The Regional Ombudsman proposed that a neutral facilitator be hired to help improve the working relationship between the group and EPA's site team. This facilitator had discussions with both sides that led to two joint meetings. The second meeting resulted in the adoption of several mutually agreeable communications measures. Even though this did not resolve all of the substantive disagreements, it allowed EPA and the group to work more constructively together.

Tooele Chemical Disposal Facility, Utah

The Region 8 Ombudsman conducted an extensive investigation into complaints about inadequate public participation when a permit was issued for this disposal facility. The investigation included a review of relevant policy, guidance and practices, and interviews with federal and State of Utah employees and community members. The Ombudsman found that the state's program complied with all requirements, but that it could be improved to become more aligned with the current best practice standards for public participation. The Ombudsman made a number of recommendations which the state has agreed to implement.

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