- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that could transfer oversight of a St. Louis County landfill containing nuclear waste to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and away from the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The measure passed Tuesday still needs approval from the House, where two members from the St. Louis area, Republican Ann Wagner and Democrat William Lacy Clay, have introduced companion legislation.

Nuclear waste dating to the Manhattan Project was dumped at West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton in 1973. An underground fire has been smoldering about 1,200 feet away in the adjacent Bridgeton Landfill for about five years, raising concerns about what might happen if the two meet.

The owner of both landfills, Republic Services, opposes the move, saying it could further delay cleanup. The EPA has promised a remediation plan by the end of the year.

The company cited delays in two projects where remediation authority was granted to the Corps of Engineers in 2002 for radioactive waste removal- the Shpack landfill in Norton, Massachusetts, and the Shallow Land Disposal Area in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Work at the Massachusetts site took a decade; remediation at the Pennsylvania site isn’t scheduled to start until 2017.

“Costs shifted from private parties to the taxpayer, and the government has recouped just pennies on the dollar,” Republic Services spokesman Russ Knocke said.

The Senate bill was co-sponsored by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill. Blunt said residents who live near the landfill “have made clear that they are fed up with the EPA’s long delay in implementing a plan to clean up the site.”

McCaskill called the Senate action “a concrete, positive step forward.”

Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said representatives of his organization will travel to Washington next week to encourage final passage of the measure in the House.

The cause of the underground fire is unknown. The persistent smelly fumes from the fire prompted Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to sue Republic Services in 2013. The case is scheduled for trial next month.

West Lake was declared a Superfund site in 1990. In 2008, the EPA announced a remediation plan to cap the nuclear waste with rock, clay and soil. The plan drew enough opposition that the EPA decided to reconsider.

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