On August 2, 2016, EPA issued the memorandum, "Consideration of Greener Cleanup Activities in the Superfund Cleanup Process," that recommends approaches for regional EPA Superfund staff to consider when evaluating, during the remedy selection process, how "greener cleanup activities" might be employed. While the concept of incorporating "green" considerations into remedy selection is not new (see EPA's 2009 "Principles for Greener Cleanups"), this memorandum is the first formal guidance document from EPA on the subject.
At the heart of the memorandum are two recommendations. First, EPA regional offices should consider conducting a Best Practices (BP) analysis to identify greener cleanup activities that may help minimize the environmental footprint of the cleanup. Second, at more complex cleanup sites, EPA regional offices should consider conducting a "footprint analysis" to help quantify site-specific metrics (such as material, water and energy usage, and emissions and waste generation) and to better identify greener cleanup activities that may reduce a cleanup’s environmental footprint.
While the memorandum goes to great length, including through the use of bold lettering, to emphasize that (a) green cleanup goals cannot supplant the National Contingency Plan (40 CFR Part 300) threshold cleanup criteria (protect human health and the environment, as well as comply with "applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements"); and (b) consideration of greener cleanup activities "is not a new criterion for evaluating alternatives for remedial actions," time will tell how much impact green cleanup considerations will have. For example, many state groundwater cleanup programs are fully risk-based and require no cleanup of groundwater if its use is prohibited by a legally binding restriction such as a municipal ordinance. EPA, in stark contrast, continues to mandate the use of energy-consuming, greenhouse gas-emitting pump and treat systems even when groundwater use is prohibited by such a restriction and no exposure to contaminated groundwater is occurring. It would seem that EPA may face some challenges, as climate change pressures grow, in continuing to mandate remedies that are in conflict with sustainability goals.