EPA Targets RCRA TSDFs As Part of Recent Environmental Justice Action Plan

 

By: George Colvin  CPG, CHMM

On January 5, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) released its draft “EJ Action Plan: Building Up Environmental Justice in EPA’s Land Protection and Cleanup Programs”.  The plan highlights projects, tools, and practices to be applied to its land pollution prevention and cleanup programs.  These programs include Superfund, Brownfields, Emergency Response, Solid Waste Management and Corrective Action, and Underground Storage Tanks.  OLEM’s draft Environmental Justice (EJ) Action Plan is part of a whole-of-government and EPA-wide effort to address the nation’s EJ priorities identified by the President and EPA Administrator Regan.

The draft EJ Action Plan includes four main goals, around which the 54 page document is organized.  They include:

  1. Strengthen compliance with cornerstone environmental statutes and civil rights laws in communities overburdened by pollution;
  2. Incorporate EJ considerations, including assessing impacts to pollution-burdened, underserved and tribal communities in the regulatory development process;
  3. Improving community engagement in rulemaking, permitting decisions, and policies with pollution-burdened and underserved communities; and
  4. Consider and prioritize direct and indirect benefits to underserved communities in the development of requests for grant applications and in making grant award decisions to the extent allowed by the law.

The draft plan includes 35 slightly more specific Initiatives, projects, and actions to assist in meeting the four major EJ goals.   In each case, the plan provides project goals, EJ benefits, organizations involved, timelines and next steps.  Many of the projects and initiatives are currently underway, with the majority of actions to be conducted in 2022.  The focus of these efforts is directed toward OLEM cleanup programs and sites.  Among the activities identified in the document are the following:

  • Strengthening Risk Management Plan (RMP) prevention and emergency response requirements in communities with EJ concerns.
  • Analysis of Spill Prevention and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan and Facility Response Plan (FRP) inspection data to target future inspections in communities with EJ concerns.
  • Use of EPA’s Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) to provide continuous evaluation missions (CEMs) for disadvantaged communities. ASPECT is EPA’s aerial surveillance platform providing wide-area chemical, radiological and nuclear detection as well as infrared photometric and advanced imagery products.
  • Mapping and analysis of the RCRA treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) universe to support EJ concerns in RCRA Corrective Action cleanups and TSDF permitting decisions.
  • Incorporating EJ into future coal combustion residuals (CCR) rulemaking.
  • Updating and issuing policy clarifying that EJ can and should be considered and documented as part of remedy and non-time-critical removal action selection, including guidance on how to document the information in decision documents.
  • Promoting the use EPA’s EJ Screen online screening and mapping tool among brownfields program staff and grant applicants.
  • Providing funding to EPA Regions to address EJ considerations in PFAS projects at federal facility National Priority List (NPL) sites.

Because authorized states are the primary implementing agency for most permitting, corrective action and enforcement activities, and a significant portion of the monies used for implementing authorized programs comes from annual hazardous waste state grants, the proposed initiatives also include the exploration of potential revisions to annual RCRA state grant terms and conditions to better prioritize and support state activities to address EJ concerns.  In this case, the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery and EPA Regional offices would explore and potentially develop proposed grant terms and conditions focusing on state actions that support EPA EJ priorities and goals.

One of the more difficult issues associated with understanding and consistently identifying environmental justice concerns has been the lack of standard definitions for terms such as “disadvantaged communities,” “overburdened,” and “community with environmental justice concerns.” To address this issue, the EJ Action plan includes a compendium of EJ-related critical terms and phrases.

EPA is currently taking feedback on the draft plan and is planning a series of currently unscheduled public virtual and in-person outreach sessions for 2022.

Published in Focus on the Environment,  February 2022

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George H. Colvin is a hydrogeologist with over 30 years of consulting experience. Much of his experience has focused on RCRA Corrective Action, RCRA closure, and groundwater investigation, monitoring, and cleanup. He holds a BS in Geology from Ohio University and MS in geology and hydrology from Vanderbilt University. He is a Certified Professional Geologist with the American Institute of Professional Geologists, a registered geologist in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager.