EPA Recommends Use of Adaptive Management Techniques at Superfund Sites

Phillips Lytle LLP
Luke Donigan

July 20, 2018

Earlier this month, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued a memorandum that defines Adaptive Management (“AM”) and calls for its expanded implementation at Superfund sites across the country. The push for AM derives from one of many recommendations made by the EPA Superfund Task Force (“STF”), which was established by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. As we previously reported, one of the former Administrator’s main priorities while in office was to revamp the Superfund program and restore it to “its rightful place at the center of the Agency’s mission.” The STF was established to further this goal and to “provide recommendations for improving and expediting site cleanups and promoting development.”

To address the STF’s recommendation to broaden the use of AM, an AM workgroup was established and comprised of representatives from regional Superfund offices, the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation (“OSRTI”), the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement and the Federal Facility Restoration and Reuse Office (collectively, the “Workgroup”).

The Workgroup established the following “working” definition of AM:

Adaptive management is a formal and systematic site or project    management approach centered on rigorous site planning and a firm understanding of site conditions and uncertainties. This technique, rooted in the sound use of science and technology, encourages continuous re-evaluation and management prioritization of site activities to account for new information and changing site conditions. A structured and continuous planning, implementation and assessment process allows EPA, states, other federal agencies (OFAs), or responsible parties (PRPs) to target management and resource decisions with the goal of incrementally reducing site uncertainties while supporting continued site progress.

 The STF’s recommendation to broaden the use of AM was primarily intended for application at large and complex Superfund sites where multiple stakeholders with different priorities often slowed remediation progress. Implementation of AM techniques seeks to increase the efficiency at Superfund sites by (i) building stakeholder consensus; (ii) ensuring adherence to good engineering principles and regulatory requirements; and (iii) establishing formal documentation addressing project uncertainties, risks and the corresponding management approach.

OSRTI is now recommending that the regions utilize a formal AM process for application at both the site level and project level. For instance, AM techniques can be used early in the site characterization process before a remedial investigation takes place. On the project level, AM strategies are applicable to the remedial investigation/feasibility study phase, the remedial design and remedial action phase, and the operation and maintenance phase.

OSRTI and the regions will utilize a two-phase implementation process to develop formal AM guidance. Phase I will consist of AM pilots where the Workgroup will develop criteria, define pilot success and develop the method and metrics of evaluation. Phase II will consist of analyzing the pilots and developing the formal AM policies or directives. OSRTI has established an anticipated completion schedule that calls for selecting pilot projects by November 2018 and developing final guidance by December 2019. The EPA AM memorandum is available on the EPA’s website.

 This article is being provided for informational purposes only and not for the purposes of providing legal advice or creating an attorney-client relationship. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem you may have. In addition, the opinions expressed herein are the opinions of Mr. Donigan and may not reflect the opinions of Synergy Environmental, Inc., Phillips Lytle LLP or either of those firms’ clients.

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