Leveraging Punitive Capital

Course: LARP 601 | Green Stimuli | Fall 2014 | University of Pennsylvania

Critic: Kira Appelhans

Project: Defining the Problem Space (Regional research and proposition for the future of industrial landscapes in the northeast)

A Superfund dinner party may be chaotic, but it gathers a wide variety of guests having interesting conversations; within this chaos there is profound opportunity. As a program construct, Superfund is unique and unprecedented in that it forces conversations among government, communities, and industry regarding conflicts between industry and natural resources.

Despite its relatively maligned reputation, Superfund remains a vital mechanism for securing funding to remediate some of our country’s most contaminated sites. Its efficacy and impact can be improved by recalibrating Superfund to identify and incorporate environmental, economic, and community goals into a remedial action plan can provide benefits beyond the eradication of contamination pathways, steering sites toward an eventual end use and increasing their interim productivity without requiring additional capital investment. Superfund sites are laden with the stigma of being former toxic wastelands, are revisited periodically by the Environmental Protection Agency for monitoring purposes, and often are overlaid with post-remedial controls that restrict future use, access, and development. As a result, many Superfund sites lie in a state of limbo, fallow and underutilized despite the large capital investment made by Superfund. Attracting end users to a highly stigmatized, [formerly] polluted site is extremely challenging, particularly in lower-income communities where land value and demand are low. While the Superfund Reinvestment Initiative seeks to abate this issue by providing funding for master plans and seeking to identify potential end users, the issue remains that determing the end use of a Superfund site is accessory to the basic program construct.

Particularly in low-income communities, Superfund represents a sizable investment that otherwise may not be made in a particular site or community, and thusly has the opportunity to have a proportionally large impact. Superfund 2.0 seeks to de-stigmatize remediation, embracing the process and re-framing it as a positive construction process utilizing in-situ, biological remediation strategies that are less expensive and can help enhance ecological productivity. In Superfund 2.0, the resources of the Superfund Reinvestment Initiative are re-situated and employed as part of the Site Inspection Process, along with the input of a variety of constituencies, creating an informed, involved, and integrated remedial strategy with greater potential for productive futures.

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