A number of federal laws and regulations guide every step of the FUSRAP cleanup process – from initial site identification to final certification.
It is typical for many FUSRAP sites to fall under several of these laws at the same time, depending on the type of contamination and the actions required to clean it up. Because so many different federal laws apply to environmental cleanup, compliance with these laws becomes very complex. Under certain circumstances, for example, the act of excavating contaminated soil could be affected by all of the laws discussed here. A general description of the main federal laws that apply to FUSRAP follows. While the focus of each of the laws is different, their goals are the same: to protect human health and the environment.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980 is the main law governing cleanup of FUSRAP sites. In 1986, major changes to this federal law were enacted with the passing of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), which authorized the study and cleanup of uncontrolled hazardous-waste sites. The CERCLA (or Superfund) process consists of three phases:
• Preliminary Assessment
• Evaluating cleanup alternatives
• Selecting a cleanup plan.
The Preliminary Assessment is used to decide which sites should be added to the National Priorities List (NPL), which identifies the most serious uncontrolled hazardous-waste sites. Sites are scored based on their impact on public health and the environment, and those sites that exceed a certain score are added to the NPL.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees CERCLA activities at most NPL sites. The cleanup of FUSRAP NPL sites is guided by a Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA) with the EPA and with input from state agencies where the sites are located. The FFA also sets cleanup priorities; defines agency responsibilities, document reviews and interaction among agency officials; and establishes a schedule for work at a site.
CERCLA requirements for site cleanups vary based on the site's size and the extent of contamination. At the major sites, after an initial planning period, workers begin a remedial investigation to identify the types and locations of contamination present. At the same time, a feasibility study is conducted that uses the results of the remedial investigation to formulate a range of cleanup options.
CERCLA allows and encourages public involvement at all stages in the process that leads to a decision for cleaning up a site. The public has an opportunity to comment on the results of the remedial investigation and the analysis of alternatives. To keep the public informed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses various community-outreach programs, including public-information centers, public meetings and periodic fact sheets. Key documents used in making a cleanup decision at a site make up an Administrative Record, which is available to the public at a location near the site.
After the public-comment period on the proposed plan is closed, the Corps of Engineers prepares a draft Record of Decision and submits it to the EPA. For NPL sites, the EPA concurs or makes the final decision on site cleanup after considering input from state agencies and from the public, and the decision is final when the regulators and the Corps of Engineers sign a legally binding Record of Decision.
You can find the actual law at the U.S. House of Representatives site: Read about CERCLA in Title 42's Chapter 103.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) sets basic national policy on environmental protection. This 1969 federal law established a process for determining if a proposed federal action will have significant environmental effects. NEPA requires federal agencies to consider environmental effects before proceeding with proposed actions.
Proposed federal actions are evaluated in light of NEPA guidelines to determine potential environmental effects and the level of NEPA documentation required. Depending on the results of initial findings, NEPA specifies several options: If an action will clearly have no significant impact, no further studies are required. However, if an action may have an impact on the environment, an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) may be required.
In preparing an Environmental Assessment, information is gathered and studied to determine whether impacts are great enough to mean a more complete EIS study is needed. If an EIS isn't required, a "finding of no significant impact" is issued.
When an EIS is required for an action at a site, NEPA requires public input early in the process of studying site conditions and cleanup options. Public involvement at all stages of the process helps ensure that problems are identified, focuses energies and efforts on those areas that must be resolved, and makes for a balanced and complete EIS.
For more information about NEPA, visit the Council on Environmental Quality website.
The CERCLA/NEPA Process
Because many requirements of CERCLA and NEPA are similar or overlapping, most FUSRAP sites are cleaned up under an integrated CERCLA/NEPA process. Actual cleanup and decision-making activities are achieved under the requirements of CERCLA. Community-relations activities are combined under the more comprehensive provisions of CERCLA and may borrow from the special requirements of NEPA where necessary. Coordination of CERCLA and NEPA requirements results in a means for open decision-making that involves the public, as well as local, state and federal agencies. Site investigations, analyses and documentation requirements of these laws are integrated to simplify regulatory review, reduce paperwork and increase cost-effectiveness.
In addition to CERCLA and NEPA, a number of other federal regulations may also apply to FUSRAP sites, such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Passed in 1976 as an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act, RCRA (pronounced "RIK ruh") establishes a "cradle to grave" system for controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal.
Contaminated materials at FUSRAP sites may contain both hazardous and radioactive waste. This mixed waste presents special challenges to FUSRAP. RCRA provides very specific requirements stating how mixed waste can be managed, treated and disposed. RCRA also requires appropriate systems for permits and waste management at all FUSRAP sites that involve mixed waste.
Each FUSRAP site is unique and may need to meet the requirements of other specific laws designed to apply to certain types of contaminants or to particular types of cleanup circumstances. For example, if performing an excavation that may release contaminated dust particles into the air, FUSRAP may need to comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. In other situations, FUSRAP may need to comply with different laws, such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Water Act and/or the Safe Drinking Water Act as well as many other federal, state and local standards that may also apply to the FUSRAP cleanup.