On November 8, 2012, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), released a report, “Alternatives for Managing the Nation’s Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites” (available from the National Academies Press at http://www.nap.edu or from email@example.com), which, among other things, studied ways to incorporate sustainability principles into site remedy selection decisions. The author of this post was a member of the NAS committee that wrote this report.
This is the first NAS report to summarize and make recommendations on the use of “sustainable” remedy selection factors (i.e., not just environmental factors, but social and economic factors) in the hazardous waste remedy selection process. Currently, EPA and Department of Defense (DoD) guidance recommend methods of “greening” remedies, but do not address the social and broader economic factors (other than practicality) that are central to sustainability decision-making. The report recommends that regulatory agencies and the Department of Defense adopt new guidance detailing how to consider sustainability in the remedy selection process, to the extent permissible by existing law (e.g., the Superfund cleanup statute does not authorize the use of sustainability in cleanup decisions ). The Report does not provide detailed methodologies because, even where there are no statutory limitations, integrating social and economic factors in remedy selection raises practical issues the resolution of which is best left to the regulatory agencies and DoD. See Pepper Environmental Alert: National Academies of Science Group Recommending Methods to Facilitate Transition of Cleanup Programs from Problem Identification and Remedy Selection to Long-term Management for a discussion of the other recommendations in the NAS Report.
As noted in a prior blog posting, the NAS report does not address innovative approaches to funding long-term management, but the author of this post and two other members of the NAS committee have on their own discussed the idea of also transferring operational responsibility and future legal liability to a “long-term management-only organization” (LTMOO) once groundwater remedies have reached a point of diminishing returns, in exchange for a payment of the net present value of the cost of long-term management (see “New Approaches Envisioned for Sustainable Site Remediation,” available at http://sustainability-counsel.com/2012/07/11/new-approaches-envisioned-for-sustainable-site-remediation/). Such an approach is likely to make long-term management more sustainable.